Economists attribute the buoyant labor market to a continued easing of pandemic-related restrictions (although a subvariant of the omicron variant is coming). More companies are bringing workers back into the office, and many Americans are trying to return to pre-pandemic habits and activities, albeit cautiously. After two years of disruption, the economy has now regained more than 90 percent of all jobs lost at the start of the pandemic.
All of that is news that President Biden and the Democrats can tout as progress. For a political reality check, though, here are some of the headlines on the Gallup organization’s website last week, based on their March poll:
- “Inflation dominates Americans’ economic concerns in March”
- “Increasing energy concerns of Americans”
- “Americans remain largely dissatisfied with the direction of the US.”
- “Congress approval remains low in March”
- “Biden’s job rating is still lukewarm; Covid-19, Russia driving”
Take those headlines one at a time. Gallup finds that 21 percent of Americans cite inflation or gas prices as the nation’s most important problem, and another 11 percent cite the economy in general. That’s about double the number who listed those three issues as the biggest issue in January.
Nearly half of all Americans say they are very concerned about the affordability and availability of energy. A year ago it was 37 percent, and in 2020 it was 22 percent, at a time when energy prices were low due to reduced economic activity due to the pandemic.
Higher prices and other concerns have helped keep Americans in a pessimistic frame of mind about the country’s direction. About a quarter of all Americans say they are satisfied with the direction, a level that hasn’t changed much since last summer, with the exception of January, when there was a dip during the worst of the omicron surge.
In recent months, Democrats have grown more optimistic about the country’s direction, according to Gallup, but their satisfaction level remains well below the high ratings of a year ago.
Congress as an institution gets low marks, with 21 percent of Americans saying they approve of the job the legislature is doing. That has been steady since last fall, but it’s notably lower than it was in the spring of 2021, at a time when parts of Biden’s agenda were passed or looked like they were about to pass.
Growing dissatisfaction with Congress among Democrats has produced nearly all of the overall decline over the past year. The Gallup report notes that after Biden was elected and after Democrats won control of the Senate to agree with their House majority, approval of Congress among Democrats rose by 50 percentage points to 61 percent. .
As Biden’s Build Back Better legislation stalled in the Senate and other Democratic priorities, such as voting rights, failed to make progress in the upper house, Democrats’ approval of Congress fell from that high to 38 percent. last June and 26 percent in January. Today it stands at 35 percent.
Meanwhile, as nearly every public poll has shown, the president’s approval rating remains in the low 40s and hasn’t changed significantly in months. His numbers began to drop last summer, coinciding with the disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan, and have not recovered since. However, he has seen some improvement in evaluations of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The job market could be turning in a positive direction and should be something to brag about in the White House. But it was the action Biden announced Thursday to curb rapidly rising gasoline prices that underscored why Democrats are so concerned about November’s midterm elections and why Republicans are so optimistic.
Biden tried to dull the pain of higher gasoline prices by announcing a historically large dispersal of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (a million barrels a day for the next six months), while at the same time trying to goad companies to return part of their profits to consumers and produce more oil and gas in the short term.
However, its powers to combat inflation are limited. Part of the price increase is due to the infusion of trillions of dollars in spending by the federal government. Some is the result of pent-up consumer demand outstripping supply. Some of this is coming from pandemic-related disruptions to global supply chains, which is a problem that is likely to ripple through the world economy for a long time to come as businesses and nations readjust to a post-COVID world. the pandemic. The latest increase in gas prices is the result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In this environment, Republicans are understandably optimistic about their prospects for the November midterm elections. With Republicans needing just a handful of seats to take control of the House, many Democrats have all but conceded a change of power in that chamber next January. The main question is what the Republican margin will be like.
The potential playing field is wide, giving Republicans plenty of opportunities to make a profit. Officials at the Republican National Congressional Committee now say they will be looking at 72 Democratic-controlled districts, though many of them will be difficult to change. Meanwhile, the House majority PAC, a Democratic caucus, said it is prepared to spend roughly $100 million across 51 media markets between now and Election Day, an indication of how much defense Democrats will play.
Democrats need a change in the national mood: events or things that alter what Gallup and other pollsters keep reporting. Here are three factors to consider:
- If the mood of the public improves as people try to get through the pandemic.
- What’s happening with inflation and whether the Fed can rein things in without triggering a recession.
- The war in Ukraine and what a prolonged conflict could do to the world economy and to public sentiment towards the Biden administration.
For now, the good jobs report is something Biden and Democrats should point to as progress, though recently, the monthly jobs numbers haven’t had any real political impact. Democrats only have a few months left to start flipping the lines in all these polls upwards.