Nancy Pontius is prepared to voice an unpopular opinion: she doesn’t perceive inflation as a significant concern and asserts that economic worries won’t sway her voting decision in the upcoming November election.
Despite experiencing financial strain akin to tens of millions of Americans in recent years, the 36-year-old Democrat from Pennsylvania remains resolute. “I definitely felt the gas price increase,” she acknowledges, “but I also recognized that it was likely to be temporary.” Having cast her ballot for Joe Biden four years ago, she intends to do so again, driven by issues like abortion. “I’m not concerned about the broader economic landscape,” she affirms.
This sentiment comes as a relief for President Biden, whose first term grappled with an unprecedented 18% surge in prices, sparking economic discontent and diminishing political backing. While America’s robust post-pandemic economic resurgence drew admiration globally, domestic sentiments remained starkly pessimistic.
However, there are indications of a shift as gasoline prices regress towards $3 per gallon nationally and wages edge closer to keeping pace with inflation. Economic sentiment, often described as the “vibe” people perceive about the economy, has seen improvement in business surveys recently.
According to the University of Michigan, Democrats like Nancy now express optimism about the economy akin to 2021 levels, surpassing any point during the Trump administration. Even Republican sentiments have slightly brightened, as per their research.
The White House is hopeful that this change in mood will endure, bolstering support for the president as the November election looms, especially in pivotal swing states like Pennsylvania. Yet, such optimism is far from guaranteed.
The president’s approval ratings linger near the lowest of his term, weighed down by concerns over immigration, his age, and conflicts like the one in Gaza. Despite positive indicators, overall economic sentiment is yet to rebound from the pandemic’s blow, notwithstanding robust growth and record low unemployment.
Within the Democratic camp, dissatisfaction with Biden’s economic policies, particularly among those under 30, presents a challenge. Kim Schwartz, a 28-year-old health technician from Pennsylvania, who voted for Biden in 2020, feels let down by the administration’s economic agenda.
“I don’t see any progress in getting more money into the hands of middle class and working class Americans to keep up with [inflation],” she laments. Kim’s financial situation has improved since 2020, yet she still diligently hunts for bargains at multiple grocery stores each week.
Her concerns resonate with others like John Cooke, a 34-year-old restaurant manager in Pennsylvania. While his eatery’s business remains strong, inflation has eaten into profits, and he hasn’t received a pay increase despite rising expenses.
Republicans, traditionally favored on economic matters, have seized on inflation to criticize Biden, attributing it to his spending policies. Economists attribute inflation to a combination of factors, including pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions and the Ukraine conflict’s impact on oil prices.
Democrats have maintained their electoral ground by attributing inflation to broader forces and focusing on other issues like social justice and climate change. However, swing voters, often prioritizing economic concerns, hold significant sway in presidential elections.
Strategists acknowledge Biden’s previous reliance on national economic metrics as a defense strategy as emotionally disconnected. Consequently, Biden has adopted a more populist rhetoric, criticizing price gouging and advocating against “shrinkflation” while denouncing “extreme MAGA Republican” economic policies.
Don Cunningham, a veteran Democratic figure in Pennsylvania, anticipates a reconciliation between economic sentiment and reality in the coming months. As head of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, he notes challenges for Biden unrelated to economic issues, such as generational divides and personal connections with voters.
Yet, signs indicate many Americans are disheartened by the probable 2020 rematch between Biden and Trump. Even Nancy, who ardently displayed her support for Biden in 2020, plans a more subdued approach this time, wary of discord with her neighbors.
“We might still put the Biden-Harris sign out,” she muses, “But I was willing to be a little louder in 2020… than I am now.”