AP-NORC poll: Virus, economy swamp other priorities for US

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

In this Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON – Containing the coronavirus outbreak and repairing the economic damage it has inflicted are the top priorities for Americans as Joe Biden prepares to become the 46th president of the United States, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Overall, 53% of Americans name COVID-19 as one of the top five issues they want the government to tackle this year, and 68% mention in some way the economy, which is still reeling from the outbreak. In an open-ended question, those priorities far outpace others, like foreign affairs, immigration, climate change or racial inequality. The findings suggest Biden’s political fate is riding on his administration’s response to the pandemic.

“I just want to be through it,” said Kennard Taylor, a 20-year-old Detroit college student who had to move back home when the pandemic shuttered his campus and who lost his grandfather to the disease. “There are other things, but I'd say right now this is the priority for me.”

The Democratic president-elect last week unveiled a proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package and has vowed to provide 100 million vaccination shots in his first 100 days, an ambitious goal that his health team is already scrambling to meet.

The poll was taken in December, before a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol seeking to halt the certification of Biden's election on Jan. 6, leading the U.S. House to impeach President Donald Trump for a second time. It also pre-dates the record number of coronavirus deaths this month, which has seen more than 4,000 die of the disease in several 24-hour periods, and a slow and bumpy start to vaccine distribution.

In a reflection of the series of national traumas from last year, another issue moved sharply up Americans' priority list for 2021 — racial inequality. After a year in which the country was convulsed by the May killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer and the ensuing Black Lives Matters demonstrations, 24% cited race relations as a priority. In contrast, only 10% cited it in late 2019 as a priority for 2020.

Forty-three percent of Black Americans mention racism and racial inequality as a priority for 2021, compared with 22% of white Americans and 21% of Hispanics.

Still, even that issue takes a backseat to COVID-19 among some. “There's no point reforming police and racism if we're all dead,” said Aaron Williams, a 34-year-old African-American construction worker in Rosenberg, Texas.