Home » Voters may at last be coming round to Biden’s sunny view of the economy | US economy

Voters may at last be coming round to Biden’s sunny view of the economy | US economy

by John Jefferson
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Joe Biden has spent most of his presidency insisting to Americans that the economy is on the right track. Poll after poll has shown that most voters do not believe him. That may be changing.

After months of resilient hiring, better-than-expected economic growth and a declining rate of inflation, new data shows that Americans are becoming upbeat about the US economy, potentially reversing the deep pessimism Biden has struggled to counter for much of the past three years.

That trend could reshape campaigning ahead of November’s presidential election, in which Biden is expected to face off against Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Experts believe the president’s case for a second term will benefit from more optimistic views of the economy – but the hangover from the inflation wave that peaked a year and a half ago presents Republicans with a potent counterattack.

“Over the last couple of years, people have been feeling the most pain on day-to-day spending, on things like groceries and gas prices and prescription drugs. And, fortunately, those prices are beginning to come down, which gives Democrats a stronger hand than we had just a few months ago,” said Adam Green, co-founder of advocacy group the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

“For a campaign that says that they want to finish the unfinished business of the Biden presidency, our polling shows that it’s perfectly OK to acknowledge that there has been pain, and there’s more business to do,” said Green.

He added that the Biden campaign should “really focus the voters’ attention on the forward-looking agenda of one party wanting to help billionaires and corporations, and the Democratic party wanting to challenge corporate greed and bring down prices for consumers”.

Biden has been unpopular with voters, according to poll aggregator FiveThirtyEight, even as employment grew strongly and the economy avoided the recession that many economists predicted was around the corner. While it’s not the only factor, pollsters have linked voters’ disapproval with Biden to the wave of price increases that peaked in June 2022 at levels not seen in more than four decades, and which have since been on the decline. An NBC News poll released this month showed Biden trailing Trump by about 20 points on the question of which candidate would better handle the economy, a finding echoed by other surveys.

But new data appears to show Americans believe the economy has turned a corner. Late last month, the Conference Board reported its index of consumer confidence had hit its highest point since December 2021, while the University of Michigan’s survey of consumer sentiment has climbed to its highest level since July of that year.

A man shops for dairy products for sale at a Whole Foods grocery store in Bethesda, Maryland. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

“The people who give positive views of the economy, they tend to point to, the unemployment rate is low, and they also point to that inflation is down from where it was,” said Jocelyn Kiley, an associate director at Pew Research Center, whose own data has found an uptick in positive economic views, particularly among Democrats.

Trump and his Republican allies have capitalized on inflation to argue that Biden should be voted out, though economists say Biden’s policies are merely one ingredient in a trend exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and global supply chain snarls that occurred as a result of Covid-19. Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who is the last major challenger to the former president still in the race has said the economy is “crushing middle-class Americans”.

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But voters’ improving views of the economy could blunt those attacks ahead of the November election, where the GOP is also hoping to seize control of the Senate from Biden’s Democratic allies and tain their majority in the House of Representatives. Lynn Vavreck, an American politics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said Trump might have to fall back to tried-and-true tactics from his 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton, such as promising to institute hardline immigration policies.

“The economy is growing. People don’t really say that they feel good about it, but if you’re gonna load up your campaign on those people’s feelings, I feel like that’s a little risky,” said Vavreck, who has studied how economic conditions can affect presidential campaigns.

“You could do that, and that would be a bit of a gamble, or you could find an issue on which you believe you are closer to most voters than Joe Biden, that is not about the economy, and you could try to reorient the conversation around that issue.”

There is already evidence that harnessing outrage over the flow of undocumented immigrants into the United States is key to Trump’s campaign strategy. The former president’s meddling was a factor in the death of a rare bipartisan agreement in Congress to tighten immigration policy in exchange for Republican votes to approve assistance for Ukraine and Israel’s militaries.

With the economy humming along, Trump is apparently nervous that the US economy could enter a recession at an inconvenient moment. “When there’s a crash, I hope it’s going to be during this next 12 months because I don’t want to be Herbert Hoover,” he said in an interview last month, referring to the US president who is often blamed for the Great Depression that began 95 years ago.

Even though the rate of inflation has eased, albeit haltingly, prices for many consumer goods re higher than they were compared with when Biden took office, which his opponents can still capitalize on, said the Republican strategist Doug Heye.

“Consumers go to the grocery store, and they spend money, and they’re upset with what things cost, and that should always be what they’re talking about,” Heye said.

While Biden has been quick to take credit for the strong hiring figures during his administration, polls show that hasn’t landed with voters. In recent months, the White House has shifted strategy, announcing efforts to get rid of junk fees and accusing corporations of “price gouging”.

Evan Roth Smith, head pollster for the Democratic research firm Blueprint, said that lines up with his findings that voters care less about job growth and more about the fact that everything costs more.

“Voters just felt a prioritization mismatch between what they were experiencing, the kind of pressures they were under, which isn’t that they didn’t have jobs, it’s that they couldn’t pay their bills,” Smith said.

“Makes all the sense in the world that if the White House and president and the Biden campaign are touting this stuff, that they are going to make headway, and are making headway with voters in getting them to feel like Joe Biden in the Democratic party do understand.”

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