Issue debates in the 2024 presidential primary
Each election year Citizens Count develops a survey to profile every candidate in New Hampshire. In 2024, that includes presidential primary candidates. Most of the content on the Citizens Count website focuses on state-level issues, so some of the 2024 presidential primary survey questions may lack context. This article provides a brief overview of the national and international topics included in the 2024 Citizens Count presidential primary candidate survey. The topics were selected based on public surveys of voter priorities, search traffic statistics, and policy platforms on candidate websites.
The Citizens Count 2024 presidential primary survey focuses on two aspects of the United States’ relationship with China. First, we ask whether candidates support ending China’s Permanent Normal Trade Relations status. Generally speaking, this would increase the cost of goods imported from China (benefiting U.S. manufacturers) and discourage American corporations from doing business in China. However, the complex economic consequences are difficult to predict. Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, and Donald Trump have all voiced support for this idea. A president would need the support of Congress to completely change China’s trading status, however.
The Citizens Count 2024 presidential primary survey also asks candidates whether the U.S. should send military forces to Taiwan if China attacks the island. Direct military conflict with China could kick off World War III, but the United States also depends on Taiwan for critical supplies, particularly semiconductors. Most candidates don’t answer this question directly and instead pivot to talk about deterring China from attacking in the first place.
Some candidates draw a connection between foreign policy in China and Mexico because many Mexican drug cartels buy fentanyl from China. One popular policy response from Republican presidential candidates is military action against the cartels in Mexico – with or without cooperation from the Mexican government. Nikki Haley and others have compared this to U.S. action against ISIS terrorists. Military action in Mexico would be a steep escalation of the Drug War, however, and would not address the underlying demand for illicit drugs in the United States. The Citizens Count 2024 presidential primary survey asks candidate whether they support this U.S. military action in Mexico.
Former president Donald Trump’s idea to build a physical wall between the United States and Mexico is also still on the table. Most Republican candidates argue they will finish the wall Trump started, but some emphasize that technology like drones are just as important to secure the border. Citizens Count accordingly asks, “Should the U.S. build a physical wall between Mexico and the U.S.?”
The war in Ukraine is a divisive subject for Republican presidential candidates this year. Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, and other more traditional conservatives argue that the United States must defend democracy and the western world by supporting Ukraine’s victory over Russia. Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, and other candidates have argued that the United States should redirect Ukraine support to the southern border. On the 2024 presidential primary survey Citizens Count asks, “Should the U.S. government continue to provide military aid to Ukraine (without putting U.S. soldiers on the ground)?”
Republicans usually unite behind the Second Amendment and oppose any new gun control. Former president Donald Trump broke rank in 2018 when he suggested raising the age to purchase some rifles, to twenty-one years-old. Former U.S. representative Will Hurd supported a similar idea before he dropped out of the 2024 Republican presidential primary. Citizens Count accordingly asked on the 2024 presidential primary survey, “Should the federal government limit certain firearm purchases to residents over age twenty-one?”
Citizens Count also included a gun control question that is a top priority for some Democratic candidates, and often asked of Republicans: should the federal government ban certain "military-style" firearms, such as the AR-15?
When asked this question, the Republican presidential candidates frequently pivot to talk about the need for more mental health treatment options. Mike Pence, Vivek Ramaswamy, and other candidates have called for a return to committing people to hospitals , reversing deinstitutionalization. The details on building and staffing these hospitals are unclear. It’s worth noting that any major gun law changes would require the cooperation of Congress.
Marijuana has not been a hot topic on the presidential campaign trail this year, but the subject is very relevant in New Hampshire, where legalization is up for debate. Gov. Sununu has voiced support for state-run pot stores. That’s legally tricky when marijuana is still banned at the federal level. The Citizens Count 2024 presidential primary survey accordingly asks, “Should the government legalize marijuana at the federal level?”
Once again, this is an issue that would require the cooperation of Congress, but the president could change some drug enforcement policy. For example, the executive branch could “reschedule” marijuana as a less dangerous drug, which would allow some interstate sales and tax write-offs while opening the door to more medical use.
Energy and environment
The Biden administration has proposed federal rules that oblige automakers to make 50% or more of the vehicles they sell electric, and this has become a hot topic on the campaign trail. Citizens Count accordingly included the issue on our 2024 presidential primary survey. Supporters of the policy argue it will help decrease carbon emissions and fight climate change. Opponents argue it will dangerously increase the United States’ reliance on China, which dominates the market for electric vehicle batteries.
Republicans argue the U.S. could instead increase its energy independence and lower gas prices by opening up more oil and natural gas leases on publicly owned land and water. Democrats generally argue the U.S. should strive to be less dependent on fossil fuels altogether; they also support protecting federal lands and waters from oil and gas pollution. Citizens Count included this debate on the 2024 presidential primary survey.
While inflation is not as hot as it was a year ago, prices for everything from car repairs to pork are still going up. There is no silver bullet to ease inflation, so the 2024 Citizens Count presidential primary survey includes several ideas:
- Supporting further Federal Reserve interest rate hikes. The Federal Reserve regulates the financial system in the United States and sets interest rates. Higher interest rates make it more expensive to borrow money, so that is one tool to slow down the economy and fight inflation. Some Republican candidates believe the Federal Reserve has gone too far with this year’s interest rate hikes and want to scale back the power of “the Fed.”
- Decreasing tariffs on imports from foreign countries. Tariffs are essentially taxes paid by foreign businesses that import goods into the United States. Former president Donald Trump raised tariffs in several categories in an attempt to make it easier for U.S. businesses to compete with manufacturing in China and other countries. However, these other countries retaliated with their own tariffs on goods from the United States. Lowering tariffs now could make imported goods cheaper in the United States, but it might also place American-made goods at a disadvantage.
- Capping price increases by large businesses. This idea would take action from Congress, but it has become popular among some Democrats. They point out many businesses blame inflation for price hikes, but corporate profits are spiking. Republicans counter that price caps distort the free market and will hurt American businesses.
- Requiring budget cuts to match any new federal spending. For most Republicans, the biggest reason for inflation is excessive government spending. The federal government greatly increased spending under both former president Donald Trump and current president Joe Biden. Generally speaking, by putting more money into the economy, the federal government increased competition for goods and services, driving up prices. However, the federal government is facing increased costs along with the rest of the country, making budget cuts difficult. Meanwhile the narrow Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives has shown passing any legislation is difficult right now, let alone a new budget.
- Raising taxes to reduce the budget deficit. President Biden is among those who support raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, which would give the government more revenue. It could also cut down on the amount of money competing for goods and services – one of the drivers of inflation – if the government used this money to pay down debt rather than add new spending. Republicans generally oppose any tax increases because they want to keep money in the private sector, rather than in the government’s control. Any tax changes depend on which party gets control of Congress in 2024.
- Repealing or revising the Jones Act to allow more foreign involvement in shipping between U.S. ports. The Jones Act restricts shipping between U.S. ports to U.S.-made ships. This creates demand for a U.S. merchant marine fleet, ensuring we will always have ships to transport our goods, even in wartime. However, foreign ships could transport goods (particularly oil) more cheaply, so some argue Congress should repeal the Jones Act to cut costs.
Projections show that Social Security will run short of cash within the next decade. The 2024 presidential candidates have different ideas to keep the program going—all of which would require the cooperation of Congress. The following four ideas are included in the Citizens Count 2024 presidential primary survey:
- Raising the retirement age from today’s age of 67. If Americans have to wait a few more years before collecting Social Security benefits, that would not only decrease payouts, it would increase the number of years workers contribute tax revenue to the system. However, opponents argue raising the retirement age breaks a promise to people who have been paying into the Social Security system all of their adult lives.
- Requiring means testing. Means testing would limit Social Security benefits for high income individuals. Supporters argue rich retirees don’t need a check from the government. Opponents argue everyone who has paid into Social Security should get their promised share.
- Raising the cap on income subject to the Social Security tax. High income earners only have to pay Social Security tax on a certain portion of their income, which relates to the maximum monthly Social Security benefit they ultimately receive. If the federal government eliminates that cap, high income earners would provide much more tax revenue for Social Security payouts. This idea is often favored by Democrats, while Republicans are leery of raising any taxes – especially if those high income earners aren’t going to get a higher Social Security benefit.
- Privatize some or all of Social Security. A decade or so ago many Republicans supported the idea of privatizing Social Security, which would allow individuals to send some or all of their Social Security tax payments to private retirement accounts. This would give Americans more control over their retirement savings, but it would also reduce the amount of money available to pay out existing Social Security obligations.
The Biden administration has implemented a new law that allows the federal government to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs covered under Medicare. Before this policy, the price for prescription drugs was negotiated between pharmaceutical companies and private insurers. Supporters of negotiation argue that the federal government will be able to get much lower prices for many drugs, saving health care costs for older Americans with chronic conditions. Opponents argue this is one step towards government price controls, which will discourage pharmaceutical companies from investing in expensive new drug research.
Former president Trump had a different idea. In 2020 he issued an executive order that Medicare would pay the same (lower) price for drugs paid by the governments of other developed nations. This order was blocked in court.
In 2022 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which removed the right to access abortion under the U.S. Constitution. Democrats argue legislators should reinstate this right through state and federal law. The 2024 Citizens Count presidential primary survey accordingly asks, “Should the federal government pass a law guaranteeing the right to choose abortion before fetal viability (generally 24 weeks gestation)?” This would be roughly equivalent to the standard set out in Roe v. Wade.
Republicans are divided on whether or not the federal government has a role in limiting abortion. Some argue these laws should be left to the states to decide. Others argue that the federal government should ban abortion at 15 weeks gestation or earlier. The 2024 Citizens Count presidential primary survey asks candidates to specify what sort of abortion ban they would support.
Whether a presidential candidate supports protecting abortion rights or adding federal restrictions, a legal change would require the support of Congress.
The presidential trail is full of comments about “wokeness” and “gender ideology.” Vivek Ramaswamy made “there are two genders” a slogan of his presidential campaign. Nikki Haley called the debate over transgender women in sports “the women’s issue of our time.”
President Biden’s administration has also addressed this issue, proposing a rule that would prohibit schools from implementing a blanket ban on transgender women in sports. The Biden administration rule falls under the scope of Title IX, a preexisting federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools. That law was written in 1972, long before today’s debates about transgender rights. Now there is debate about how the law should be interpreted related to transgender students. The 2024 Citizens Count presidential primary survey therefore asks, “Do you support revising Title IX to limit participation in female sports based on an individual's reproductive biology and genetics at birth?”
Former president Trump rose to power promising to “drain the swamp” of corruption in Washington, D.C. However, many of his opponents – including some Republicans – argue that he damaged critical protections in our democracy. Now the presidential campaign trail is filled with ideas about government reform, and the 2024 Citizens Count presidential primary survey includes four questions on this topic.
First, the survey asks candidates if they support abolishing any federal agencies or departments. Republican candidates have advocated for gutting or abolishing the Department of Education, the Department of Energy , the IRS, and even the FBI. They argue these branches are too corrupt or overreaching. However, dissenters such as Chris Christie argue that abolishing some of these departments and agencies would put the safety and stability of our democracy at risk.
Nikki Haley has put forward another idea for government reform: mandatory competency tests for federal candidates over age 75. Both former president Trump and current president Joe Biden are over that age, and both have been accused of declining mental fitness. Opponents of Haley’s idea argue that voters are the best judge of a person’s competence. It would also be impossible to implement this idea without Congressional action.
Third, the Citizens Count survey asks if candidates would pardon former president Donald Trump if he were convicted. Vivek Ramaswamy challenged his fellow candidates to answer this question at the first Republican primary debate, and most candidates dodged a direct answer.
Lastly, the Citizens Count survey asks if candidates support a constitutional amendment limiting terms for U.S. representatives and senators. Most of the Republican candidates support this idea as yet another way to “drain the swamp.” However, Biden and others have argued that voters should get the final say on whether someone should stay in office or not.
New Hampshire voters will get their say in January 2024 by voting in the First in the Nation presidential primary. That won’t be the final say, however, as candidates will go on to campaign in primaries and caucuses across the United States.
To learn more about each of the candidates and where they stand on these issues, visit the Citizens Count presidential primary page, here.