A man walks out of a voting booth during the New Hampshire Primary at Parker-Varney Elementary School in Manchester, New Hampshire, in this Feb. 11, 2020, file photo. Credit: Andrew Harnik | AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — Last month, the Bangor Daily News asked readers to inform 2020 election coverage by telling us the issues they care about most. More than 500 people responded. We are now reporting back on what they said and how we’re using the data.

The BDN asked readers to rank 14 issues in order of importance to them as part of a “citizen agenda” model of covering elections that the newspaper is adopting in 2020. It involves seeking input from readers on topics they are interested in and focusing coverage on those topics.

We heard back from 509 readers who answered the survey in print or online. That group was not randomly selected, so it is not scientific or necessarily representative of our readership. Here are the results and how we’re going to use them in the short term and long term.

Health care, corruption or ethics and the economy led the pack overall. We asked readers to self-identify as Republicans, Democrats, independents or members of other parties, then rank the issues. We scored and weighed ranked results by Maine’s actual party registration to get a better — yet still not scientific — sense of how the general population feels.

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By that measure, health care was the most important issue overall, followed in order by corruption or ethics, jobs and the economy, immigration, taxes or spending, education and support for or opposition to President Donald Trump. The subject of racism, equality and LGBTQ rights ranked last on average, with abortion or reproductive rights and social programs first and second to last, respectively.

Democrats most valued climate change or the environment. For Republicans, it was taxes and spending. They are deeply divided on two subjects. Climate change and the environment was the top issue for Democratic readers, who saw it as the most important issue on average, followed closely by health care. Corruption and ethics was a distant third, while their least important issue was national security and terrorism.

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Republicans put taxes or spending highest on average, ranking jobs and the economy second, with immigration, corruption or ethics, leadership, health care and gun control or rights fighting a tight battle for the next four spots. They ranked racism, equality and LGBTQ rights last, which pushed it down the overall rankings.

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Corruption or ethics was the only topic to crack the top five issues for both parties, while Democrats and Republicans deeply diverged on two issues. While climate change or the environment was the top Democratic issue and taxes or spending was the top Republican issue, the opposite parties put those issues second to last on average.

What are the next steps? In the short term, the BDN will use some of this data to prioritize issue coverage ahead of the Democratic presidential primary on March 3. Some of you who answered the survey and gave out contact information will hear from us soon to drill down on some responses, including the questions that readers told us they wanted to ask candidates as we prepare for the June congressional and legislative primaries.

We will also be doing an audit of the newspaper’s recent coverage in all of these areas. While it would be difficult and perhaps unwise to weigh coverage exactly according to these reader interests, this exercise may give us a window into blind spots. We will report back on those results.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...