Lisa Palmer feels like she spent $100 on groceries, but walks away with only $70 worth of food.
“Everything went up,” she said as she carried a bag of groceries through the parking lot of Meijer, a Michigan-based regional supermarket chain.
“I don’t blame anyone in particular,” she said. “But yeah, I blame the White House and Congress. It’s their job to make America work if it doesn’t work. It’s so broken now…we’re floundering.”
Palmer’s frustration is not isolated.
In poll after poll, voters appear frustrated with the overall state of the country – a mix of being rocked by a pandemic that refuses to end and a price hike not seen in decades. And as a result, the president’s approval rating has been stuck underwater since September.
“Voters have been in a really nasty mood,” said Lanae Erickson, senior vice president of the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way. In large part, it is because of inflation. On Tuesday, the Labor Department announced that consumer prices jumped 8.5% from a year ago, the biggest increase since 1981.
“People don’t think Joe Biden caused the cost hike, but they think the Democrats promised to bring us back to pre-pandemic life. And that hasn’t really happened yet,” said Erickson.
And that poses a challenge to the president and his party. Midterm elections are usually difficult for the ruling party; they are considered a referendum on the incumbent. And this year, some Democratic analysts fear typical trends could be worse due to Biden’s weak polling numbers.
Republicans and Democrats worry about inflation but see very different causes
Rising prices are the main economic concern of Americans these days; surveys often show it ahead of other priorities like COVID-19, crime or the war in Ukraine.
Concern about inflation is almost bipartisan. But the culprit is not.
“Inflation is hitting us pretty hard,” said Michael Ovorus, a retired engineer from Hamburg, Michigan, who says he started noticing prices rising last summer. “But what can you expect with the COVID outbreak, where the economy has come to a standstill? It’s a big mess. And it’s going to take time to pass.”
Ovorus, a democrat, has an element of fatalism when he talks about inflation. “The economy – it’s a big ship to turn,” he said.
He predicts inflation could last another year, if not longer. But like other Democrats, he doesn’t blame the president for the price hike. Instead, Democrats, while frustrated with rising prices, often blame the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin or corporations.
The economy, however, like many aspects of American life, is often viewed through a partisan lens.
And Republicans blamed Biden squarely.
“It seems like every time I go down the row something has gone up 5, 10, 15 cents,” Walt Hickok said as he got into his car at Walmart in Howell, Michigan. “I don’t know where it came from. . I don’t really attribute it to the war, because it started before the war.
Hickok, a self-proclaimed conservative, finally says he thinks the president is to blame.
“I think all the handouts of money to everybody – the stimulus checks – it hasn’t helped the country in my opinion because now you find signs everywhere saying we need people to work,” did he declare.
A recent letter from researchers at the San Francisco Federal Reserve suggested that the United States is experiencing higher inflation than some other countries, in part because of the huge pandemic relief packages passed by Congress under Trump and Biden. . The complication, these economists write, is that without these big spending measures, the economy could have tipped into a recession.
The struggle for Biden is that inflation has hampered his legislative agenda, and while there’s not much a president can realistically do to curb it, analysts say the president must give the feel like he’s trying because inflation is such a pervasive and tangible problem.
Gas prices are a big priority for Biden — and consumers
One of the most notable increases is the price of gasoline, displayed on giant signs at every gas station. From January to March, the price of a gallon of regular gasoline jumped about 80 cents. The president and his team dubbed the increase “Putin’s price hike.”
But the moniker was unconvincing to Americans who thought Biden wasn’t doing enough to help.
“We have a lot of reserves here, there’s no reason we have to rely on other countries to get our oil,” Trevor Wilcox said as he stuffed supplies into the trunk of his car. His wife, Krista, a nurse, intervened. She largely blames COVID for the sticker shock she feels at the grocery store — the reason she buys fewer fruits and vegetables and more generics. But even she wonders about the rise in gasoline prices.
Last month, the president announced the largest-ever release of oil from strategic petroleum reserves: one million barrels of oil a day for six months.
This week it announced a plan to allow expanded use of E15 gasoline, a gas blend with a higher percentage of ethanol that has typically been banned during the summer.
Still, the president’s approval rating hovers around 42% and he’s hit the road trying to increase it, making the E15 announcement at an ethanol plant in Iowa and driving to Carolina. North on Thursday to talk about supply chain issues.
The president has particularly struggled with the support of young people
Young voters were key to Democratic victories in 2018 and 2020. But earlier this year, Gallup found that Biden’s support among 18-29 year olds had plummeted to 31%. It has since bounced back from it, but Biden’s skepticism persists.
“He didn’t deliver on his promises,” said Brady McAdams, a 19-year-old nursing student at Michigan State University. “He’s not doing enough for the people he said he would.”
His main complaint is the lack of student loan forgiveness. Other young people point to the lack of action on immigration or the minimum wage.
The president’s supporters think the criticism is unfair. Biden, they say, is unfairly blamed for an uncooperative Congress and a pandemic. Additionally, they point to low unemployment, the infrastructure bill, and the nomination of the nation’s first black woman to the Supreme Court as proof that the president has moved the country in the right direction.
Biden’s base seems less enthusiastic than during the 2018 Democratic wave
Four years ago, suburban women like Brenda Lindsay of Howell, Michigan, voted en masse to give Democrats key midterm wins in 2018. Lindsay is an organizer for Indivisible, the progressive group of grassroots that sprung up after Donald Trump was elected in 2016, and she remembers the energy she saw around her in Livingston County during that campaign season.
She doesn’t see anything like it this year.
“There’s less enthusiasm,” she said flatly. For Lindsay, there is no doubt that she will vote for the Democrats this fall, and her loyal members will too. They are activists.
But Lindsay is worried because it’s not enough to win.
“We are in incredible pain from the posts and holding others accountable at this time,” she said. “It’s not that [Biden] itself is terrible. It’s the Democrats who aren’t as good at messaging as they should be. … Should the message come from the president? I do not know.”
The message – or lack thereof – from Washington frustrated Lindsay. And so she and other local Democrats are trying to create their own story to help people run for office.
It could be difficult.
“If the president’s approval rating is 42%, it will be difficult for anyone to top him by 9 or 10 points,” Erickson said. “It’s very difficult in modern politics.”