Even most Biden voters don’t see a thriving economy

Even most Biden voters don’t see a thriving economy

Presidents seeking a second term have often considered public perception of the economy a crucial issue. This was a boon for Ronald Reagan; it helped get Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush out of the White House.

Now, as President Biden turns to a re-election campaign, there are warning signs on that front: With overall consumer sentiment at an all-time low despite strong economic data, even Democrats who supported Mr. Biden in 2020 say they are not impressed by this campaign. the economy.

In a recent New York Times/Siena College poll of voters in six battleground states, 62 percent of those voters think the economy is only “fair” or “poor” (compared to 97 percent of those who voted for Donald J. Trump).

The demographics of Mr. Biden’s supporters in 2020 may partly explain his current challenge: They were younger overall, had lower incomes and were more racially diverse than Mr. Trump’s. These groups tend to be hardest hit by inflation, which has not yet returned to 2020 levels, and high interest rates, which have frustrated first-time home buyers and depleted finances of those who depend on credit.

But if the election were held today and the options were Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump, it is unclear whether voters’ perceptions of the economy would tip the scales.

“The last midterm was an election about abortion,” said Joshua Doss, an analyst at public opinion research firm HIT Strategies, referring to the 2022 vote that followed the Supreme Court’s ruling. overturn Roe v. The Wade decision. “Most of the time, elections are about ‘it’s the economy, stupid.’ The Republicans lost that because of Roe. So we are definitely in uncharted territory.

There are things that work in Mr. Biden’s favor. First, Mr. Doss said, the economic programs enacted under the Biden administration remain broadly popular, providing a policy foundation on which Mr. Biden can build. And second, social issues – which raised concerns among Democrats in the midterms – remain a major concern.

Take Oscar Nuñez, 27, a waiter at a Las Vegas restaurant. Foot traffic has been much slower than usual this time of year, eating into his tips. He’d like to start his own business, but with the cost of living rising, he and his wife — who works from home answering independent contractor questions for her employer — haven’t been able to save much money. It’s also a difficult leap to make when the economy appears fragile.

Mr. Nuñez expected better from Mr. Biden when he voted blue in 2020, he said, but he wasn’t sure what the president should have done better. And it’s almost certain that another Trump term would be a disaster.

“I would prefer another option, but it looks like this will be my only option again,” Mr. Nuñez said of Mr. Biden. For him, immigrant rights and foreign policy concerns are more important. “That’s why I chose him over Trump in the first place – because this guy is going to do something really dangerous at some point.”

Mr. Nuñez is not alone in feeling dissatisfied with the economy, but he is still tied to Mr. Biden by other priorities. Among respondents in the six battleground states who plan to vote for Mr. Biden in 2024, 47% say social issues are more important to them, while 42% say the economy is more important – but it’s a narrower split than the 2022 midterms, during which social issues largely took precedence over economic concerns among Democratic voters in several swing states. (Among likely Trump voters, 71% say they are more focused on the economy, while 15% favor social issues.)

Nor are gloomy feelings about the economy limited to people whose financial ambitions have been frustrated.

University of North Georgia students Mackenzie Kiser, 20, and Lawson Millwood, 21, managed to purchase a home this year. Mr. Millwood’s income as a computer systems administrator at the university was sufficient to qualify, and they feared affordability would deteriorate if they waited due to rising interest rates and prices. However, the experience left a bitter taste.

“The housing market is absolutely insane,” said Ms. Kiser, who was not old enough to vote in 2020 but is fairly progressive. “We paid the same price for our 1950s one-story, one-bedroom cinder block house that my mother paid for her three-story, four-bedroom house less than a decade ago.”

Ms. Kiser doesn’t think Mr. Biden has done much to help the economy, and she worries he is too old to be effective. But Mr. Trump is no more attractive on this point.

“It’s not that I think anyone from a different party could do better, but rather that someone with his mental faculties who is under retirement age could do a better work,” Ms. Kiser said. “Our choices are retirement age or retirement age, so it’s difficult right now.”

Voters also generally don’t think Republicans are fixing the economy. In a survey carried out this month According to the progressive firm Navigator Research, 70 percent of voters in House battleground districts, including a majority of Republicans, said they thought Republicans were more focused on issues other than the economy.

The health of the economy remains a major variable as the elections approach. An economic slowdown could undermine what the president cites as a sign of success of the bidenomic policy: a low unemployment rate. HAS study of the 2016 election found that higher localized unemployment made black voters, a predominantly Democratic constituency, less likely to vote.

“I think the likelihood of them choosing Trump is not a threat,” Mr. Doss said. “The threat is that they would choose the couch and stay home, and enough of them would stay home for a Trump election victory. »

But in the absence of a competitive Democratic primary, the campaign – and the TV spots – have yet to really begin. When they do, Mr. Doss has some ideas.

Mr. Biden’s message so far has focused on macroeconomic indicators such as the unemployment rate and the fight against inflation. “The truth is, for most people, that’s not what economics is,” Mr. Doss said. “For most people, the economy depends on the price of gas and food, and whether or not they can afford to throw their child a birthday party.”

It is difficult for presidents to directly control inflation in the short term. But the White House has addressed some specific costs important to families, releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to contain surging oil prices in late 2022, for example. The Inflation Reduction Act reduced prescription drug prices under Medicare and capped the cost of insulin for people with diabetes. The administration also attacks what it calls “unwanted costs” that inflate the prices of things like concert tickets, plane tickets, and even birthday parties.

The more the administration talks about its concrete efforts to lower prices, the more Mr. Biden will benefit, Mr. Doss said. At the same time, Mr. Biden can mitigate the impact of persistent inflation by deflecting blame — an out-of-control pandemic was the original cause, he might reasonably argue, and most other rich countries are worse off.

That’s what Kendra McDowell, 44, an accountant and single mother of four in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, thinks. She feels the sting of inflation every time she goes to the grocery store – she spent $1,000 on groceries last month and didn’t even spend $1,000 on groceries last month. fill its freezer – and in the health of its customers’ balance sheets. Despite her judgment that the economy is bad, she still has enough confidence to start a business in home care, a field in growing demand since Covid-19 ravaged nursing homes.

“When I talk about the economy, it’s all about inflation, and to me, inflation is systemic and comes from the Trump administration,” Ms. McDowell said. If the pandemic had been contained quickly, she believes, supply chains and labor disruptions would not have caused prices to skyrocket.

Furthermore, she sees the situation healing itself and believes Mr. Biden is doing his best in the face of the challenges of the wars in Ukraine and now Gaza. “People go shopping, do you know why? Because they have work,” Ms. McDowell said. “God forbid, today or tomorrow, if I had to go look for work, it would be easier than before. »

Ms. McDowell is what public opinion research calls a highly informed voter. Polls showed that those who are less able to follow the news tend to change their minds when they have more information about what the Biden administration has accomplished and attempted.

The 15-month-old inflation reduction law is still little known, For example. But last March, Yale’s program on climate change communication find that 68 percent of respondents supported it when asked about its main components.

A recurring theme in conversations with Democratic voters who view the economy as bad is that big business has too much power and the middle class is being crushed.

Mr. Millwood, Ms. Kiser’s partner, said he was concerned that society had become more unequal in recent years and that he did not see Mr. Biden doing much to fix it.

“From what I see, it really doesn’t seem like the working class has benefited from much recently,” said Mr. Millwood, who supports a higher federal minimum wage and is impatient with the bickering and finger-pointing. which he heard about in Washington. .

After the phone conversation ended, Mr. Millwood texted to say that upon reflection, he would also like to see Mr. Biden push to cut taxes on low-income families and make it harder for the wealthiest to afford them. avoid. After receiving news reports about Mr. Biden’s support for extending the now-expired child tax credit and directing $80 billion to the Internal Revenue Service, in part to continue tax evaders, he seemed surprised.

“This is absolutely what I had in mind,” Mr Millwood texted. “It’s been so loud in the media lately that I haven’t seen much that covers things like this,” adding, “Biden doesn’t seem so bad after all haha.”

Ruth Igielnik reports contributed.

Audio produced by Tally Abécassis.

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David B.Otero

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