By JOSH BOAK, ZEKE MILLER and CHRIS MEGERIAN Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Seven months before he faces a critical test from voters in the midterm elections, President Joe Biden is turning his attention to the issues at the table as he struggles to get credit for a recovering economy.
Since Biden took office last year, job growth has been vigorous and steady, as he told the country on Friday after the March jobs report showed 431,000 jobs added and the unemployment rate falling. to a minimum of 3.6%. But those same comments were also tempered by his acknowledgment that food and gas prices are too high and inflation is at its worst in a generation.
For Biden, convincing Americans of the progress made on the economic recovery only serves as a salient reminder of how much further the country needs to go.
“Our economy has gone from recovering to being on the move,” Biden said, while acknowledging that Americans are not ready for a victory lap. “I know this job is not done: we need to do more to control prices.”
At times, Biden’s bifurcated messages, like the state of the economy itself, can seem like a jumble of contradictions. He leaves voters to piece together their own opinions, which could pose a political risk to the president.
Record wage gains of 5.6% over the past year, for example, come up against consumer prices that have risen 7.9% annually. Biden’s announcement last week of plans to release a million barrels of oil a day from the US strategic reserve for the next six months was an acknowledgment of the damage that inflation can have not only on the economy but also on the their own political ambitions.
Economic discontent is reflected in Biden’s position in public opinion polls.
About 7 in 10 people in the United States describe the economy as in bad shape, while nearly two-thirds disapprove of Biden’s economic leadership, according to a March poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Administration officials and Biden allies happily point to the job-creation data as a sign of accomplishment, but are also disturbed by the lingering economic malaise that threatens him with a historically inhospitable environment for a president’s party in a year. half-period.
They have advised Biden to highlight his work to lower gasoline prices and upcoming efforts to try to curb rising food prices due to the war raging in the global breadbasket of Ukraine.
It’s not just the family budget you’re targeting. Biden’s latest message to voters is that he, too, can control the nation’s finances.
His annual budget request highlighted a $1 trillion decrease in the deficit over 10 years, an effort to reclaim the role of fiscal manager even as the reduction was prompted by the expiration of COVID-19 relief programs that are no longer and a new plan for a minimum tax on the nation’s billionaires.
“Responsible fiscal responsibility is always a priority for voters,” said Democratic pollster John Anzalone, who advised Biden’s 2020 campaign. “I think people want fiscal responsibility. And I don’t think that has changed over the years.”
Biden aides also hope they can spend more time focusing on other ways the government is working to make concrete changes in people’s lives, with investments in infrastructure and an improving economy.
Rep. Annie Kuster, DN.H., said Wednesday after meeting with Biden that his message over the past month has clearly been aimed at moderate voters.
“The State of the Union was spot on in terms of what the constituents of our districts, the purple districts, are talking about right now,” he said outside the White House. He noted Biden’s turn to address mental health issues after the pandemic, while emphasizing that the president plans to run on infrastructure and job creation.
Voters have interpreted the pandemic, the recession, the burst in government spending, the rapid recovery, and the inflation that followed with a sense of pessimism.
The University of Michigan survey of consumer confidence included a partisan breakdown of numbers showing growing anxiety among Democrats whom Biden needs to convert in 2022. Democrats’ expectations for the economy have been falling since July, while independents’ expectations for the economy are at the lowest level since 2008 when the country was mired in the Great Recession.
Oil and gasoline prices have been a driver of this skepticism. Crude oil prices started the year at about $76 a barrel, spiked to around $124 on March 8 after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and appeared to sit just below $100 on Friday after Biden announced the release of reserves.
Desmond Lachman, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, called the market’s reaction to Biden’s oil release “muted,” noting that “in the short term we are subject to the vagaries of external developments like the Russian invasion.”
University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers, whose work is independent of the opinion poll, noted there is evidence that public perception of inflation may be worse than actual inflation. This is because gasoline, food, and other items whose prices are openly displayed are the main drivers of higher prices, possibly giving inflation an outsized psychological impact.
Wolfers has done academic work on the impact oil prices have on gubernatorial elections, but noted that historical comparisons may not work after the financial and cultural shock of a pandemic has upended expectations.
“If I were Biden, I would be using a version of ‘better than four years ago,’” Wolfers said. He said voters need to remember June 2020, when the world was hit by the pandemic, the government was providing misleading information about the pandemic, the economy was dire, and “you also didn’t know if you were going to die.”
“How do you feel now? That would be the argument,” he said.
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