President Biden and other Democrats are facing a hard truth: They are being blamed for what is bad in the economy and getting no credit for what is good.
The dynamic could spell the end of the elections in November.
The Democrats’ failure to get voters to recognize the benefits of the economy is not for lack of trying.
New data on Thursday showed new jobless claims were at their lowest level since modern records began in 1968. The president responded with a statement in which he noted that nearly 8 million jobs had been created since taking office – “more jobs created on average per month than under any other president in history,” he said.
Later the same day, in a speech to construction unions, Biden noted the sharp drop in the unemployment rate during his tenure — from 6.4% in January 2021 to 3.6% now — as well as the strong recovery in the US gross domestic product last year.
None of this makes much noise in public opinion.
An NBC News survey late last month found a whopping 63% of the population disapproved of Biden’s handling of the economy and only 33% approved.
An Economist-YouGov poll this week asked people how they viewed the state of the economy.
Only 1 in 4 said it was either “excellent” or “good”. Twenty-seven percent called the economy “fair” and 42% said it was “poor.”
The obvious culprit is inflation.
The inflation rate hit 7.9% in the latest figures, which cover February, the highest level seen since 1982.
The most obvious manifestation of runaway inflation is the high gas price, which was exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But inflation affects virtually everything, including the price of food. Then there are ripple effects, like mortgage rates that have risen sharply, making it harder for people to buy homes.
The visceral way in which inflation plays out blocks other more positive economic news, and fear is palpable among Democrats as they look to November
Inflation is “noticeable because people know if they’re paying more than the last time they were at the grocery store or the gas station,” said Democratic strategist and ad designer Bill Carrick.
By contrast, Carrick noted, a strong labor market is not felt as universally, being primarily relevant to job seekers or employers. He suggested that when people find jobs, they’re more likely to credit their own efforts than the government — a stark difference from how they view inflation or gas prices.
“It’s a complex equation, job creation – certainly more than the cost of a six-pack or a loaf of bread or a frozen pizza,” he said. When people get a new job, “it tends to be very personal – they did it on their own, their sister-in-law told them there was a job somewhere or whatever. They don’t see it not so much as a macroeconomic problem.
Meanwhile, Republicans are tightening the screws on Biden’s economic record.
“Biden and the Democrats created 40 years of high inflation, record gas prices and an economy that left too many people behind. Democrats will pay the price for their reckless spending agenda in November,” Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement Friday.
Concerns are growing about the effectiveness of these attacks.
Voices across the Democratic spectrum, from centrists to progressives, fear their problems are compounded by two other factors.
One is the general public’s irritability after more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. The other is Democratic infighting that has limited progress in other areas, including the party’s protracted and unsuccessful attempt to push through Biden’s sweeping “build back better” agenda.
“The pandemic has created this other reality, this feeling of fear, the feeling that things are out of control,” said progressive strategist Jonathan Tasini.
He said these emotions, along with frustrations that have simmered for years over issues such as wealth equality and stagnating wages, have created a public mood that “clouds the real practical realities of a cheap labor market.” work and other things that are quite positive.”
Keir Murray, a more centrist Texas-based Democratic strategist, agreed on the impact of the pandemic on public opinion.
But Murray also lamented the failure of the Build Back Better effort. There was, he said, “a lot of back-and-forth and hand-wringing over legislation that showed the public a kind of Democrat-on-Democrat violence rather than the traditional one-on-one party . It harmed the president and the party as well.
Centrists argue the left pushed too hard during this time, but progressives like Tasini counter that the most prominent conservative Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), “handcuffed the party and dressed it up. with a sense of failure by standing in the way of virtually anything that would make a difference to people.
Somehow, the fights over the legislation meant that even the successful passage of a huge infrastructure deal around the same time had a muted political impact.
Democrats insist the coronavirus relief bill that Biden passed more than a year ago still goes uncredited for mitigating the effects of the pandemic.
But they also know that voters’ memories are short and that the legislation in question, the US bailout, is far in the rearview mirror.
As if all that weren’t enough, the war in Ukraine is now grabbing the lion’s share of public attention and exacerbating the very inflationary pressures that are causing such problems for Democrats.
It’s a grim scenario for the president and his party.
Democrats are still hoping things can turn around, but the odds of fending off a GOP surge in November appear to be getting smaller and smaller.
The Memo is a column reported by Niall Stanage.