President Biden and the Democratic Party face no shortage of challenges heading into the 2022 midterm elections. But inflation is by far the most formidable — and now, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll, Americans say that Republicans (31%) rather than Democrats (26%) can do a better job of “fixing” it.
The survey of 1,605 U.S. adults, which was conducted from April 19 to 22, found that 39% select either inflation (33%) or gas prices (6%) as the biggest problem facing America today. No other issue comes close; in fact, only one — climate change (11%) — cracks the 10% mark.
And while Republicans (56%) are much more likely than Democrats (26%) or independents (43%) to rank inflation or gas prices as America’s No. 1 problem, even Democrats now cite rising consumer costs as a bigger dilemma than climate change (19%) or health care (13%).
This is terrible news for Biden for several reasons. First, inflation can be difficult — or even disastrous — for policymakers to tackle; perhaps reflecting that conundrum, far more respondents (42%) say that “no one” can fix inflation (17%) or that they’re “not sure” (25%) than say either party can tame the problem.
At the same time, however, Americans want action, and just 21% of them — including just 41% of Democrats and 43% of 2020 Biden voters — think the president is “doing enough to address inflation.” And while nearly 4 in 10 select inflation or gas prices from a list of 10 issues as the biggest problem facing America, only 15% select inflation (9%) or gas prices (6%) as the issue they believe Biden focuses on the most. More say the president focuses primarily on COVID-19 (16%).
In contrast, 18% of Americans pick either inflation (14%) or gas prices (4%) as the problem Republicans in Congress focus on most.
Finally, Americans tend to hold the incumbent president and his party responsible for the way things are going regardless of how he responds; Democrats also control both the House and Senate, making it harder for the White House to blame Congress for the nation’s problems.
So even though nearly three-quarters (74%) acknowledge that “disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic” deserve either “some” or “a great deal” of blame for inflation, Biden (62%) is now next on the list, with the Federal Reserve Board (53%) and former President Donald Trump (44%) trailing far behind.
When asked who deserves “the most blame” for inflation, more Americans say Biden (37%) than the pandemic (27%), Trump (13%) or the Fed (4%).
Pushing back, Democrats tend to highlight more encouraging indicators: the 6.6 million jobs added to the economy during Biden’s first year in office, a presidential record; an unemployment rate (3.6%) that’s rapidly approaching a 50-year low; and the biggest one-year expansion in gross domestic product — the nation’s total output of goods and services — since 1984.
Yet this sunnier message isn’t breaking through. A full 70% of Americans rate today’s economy as either poor (42%) or fair (28%); just 23% rate it good (19%) or excellent (4%). Even a majority of Democrats (56%) describe the economy as poor or fair — nearly 20 points more than the share (37%) who say it’s good or excellent. Likewise, most Americans say the economy is “getting worse” (54%) rather than “getting better” (13%) or staying “about the same” (23%).
The new Yahoo News/YouGov poll hints at why. For one thing, the vast majority of Americans (63%) now say they hear “the most” about inflation “in the media”; only a handful say the same about the unemployment rate (15%) or GDP growth (5%). Just a quarter of Americans even realize that the unemployment rate is “historically low” right now (25%), while only slightly more (30%) know that it’s “going down”. As for economic growth, even fewer are aware that it is “historically high” (18%) and “going up” (21%).
Yet a full 70% of Americans know inflation is historically high, and even more (72%) say it’s rising.
Part of Biden’s predicament has to do with media coverage. But from soaring numbers on gas station signs to steeper costs at grocery stores, inflation also intrudes on people’s daily lives in a more visible and immediate way than other economic factors — and that’s ultimately a bigger problem for the president than the press.
Paradoxically, most Americans characterize their own personal economic situation as either staying about the same (46%) or getting better (10%); just 36% say it’s getting worse. More than 7 in 10 say their own personal job situation is either the same as it was before the pandemic (61%) or better (11%). Nearly 80% of those who describe themselves as employed say they feel secure in their job.
And while Americans are more likely to say no (45%) than yes (33%) when asked if they’re “better off economically than [their] parents were,” more also “expect to someday be better off economically” than their parents (47%) than worse off (28%).
In other words, Americans largely believe that they themselves are heading in the right economic direction. But inflation is now dominating — and defining — their impressions of the economy as a whole. Consider the results of three back-to-back questions:
In 2021, U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) grew at the fastest rate (5.7 percent) since 1984. How much have you felt the impact of this GDP growth in your own life?
A lot: 18%
A little: 35%
Combined impact (a lot + a little): 53%
Not at all: 47%
In 2021, more U.S. jobs were created (6 million) than in any other year on record. How much have you felt the impact of these new jobs in your own life?
A lot: 9%
A little: 25%
Combined impact (a lot + a little): 34%
Not at all: 66%
In 2021, U.S. inflation grew at the fastest rate (7 percent) since 1982. How much have you felt the impact of this inflation in your own life?
A lot: 54%
A little: 33%
Combined impact (a lot + a little): 87%
Not at all: 13%
In their own lives, Americans are now 3 times more likely to say they’ve felt “a lot” of impact from rising inflation than from GDP growth — and 6 times more likely to say they’ve felt a lot of impact from rising inflation than from falling unemployment. It’s hard for any White House communications team to compete with that.
As a result, Biden’s overall job-approval rating is still stuck at 42%, with 51% of Americans disapproving of his performance in office. His approval rating on the economy (38%) is significantly lower than his approval ratings on the coronavirus (48%) and the Russia-Ukraine situation (42%).
And just 39% of Americans now say they would vote for Biden if the election were held today; 38% say they would vote for Trump.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,605 U.S. adults interviewed online from April 19 to 22, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or nonvote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.6%.