How Voters Feel About The US Economy: 4 Takeaways From The Latest Polls

Feature and Cover How Voters Feel About The US Economy 4 Takeaways From The Latest Polls

As the 2024 general election begins in earnest, voters’ assessment of the economy and of the candidates’ ability to manage it will, as usual, have a strong impact on the outcome of the race. With little more than seven months until Election Day, the economy remains a key advantage for former President Donald Trump, and a drag on President Biden’s reelection prospects. Here are four takeaways from recent survey research on this topic:

Inflation and high prices remain the electorate’s top concern and dominate voters’ assessment of the economy. In a just-released Economist/YouGov survey, 22% of voters identify inflation/prices as their most important issue, compared to only seven percent who cite jobs and the economy. According to a Data for Progress analysis, 68% of those who put inflation and prices first named the cost of food as their principal concern, followed by housing (17%), utilities (eight percent), and gas (three percent).

Despite some modest recent improvement, voters’ sentiments about the economy remain negative. A recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) survey found 31% of voters endorse the proposition that the economy has improved over the past two years, up by 10 percentage points since December. In another sign of progress, a New York Times (NYT) survey from early March found that 26% regard economic conditions as excellent or good, up from 20% since last July.

Still, 74% of the NYT respondents regard the economy as only fair (23%) or poor (51%). And as an analysis of the WSJ data shows, inflation is still the main reason why economic sentiment remains depressed. More than two-thirds of voters say that inflation is headed in the wrong direction, and nearly three-quarters say that price increases are exceeding gains in household income. This helps explain why only 24% of voters expect the economy to get better over the next 12 months.

The Economist/YouGov survey helps us understand how key subgroups of the electorate are feeling about the economy. Only 22% of Black Americans, 13% of Hispanics, and 18% of young adults believe that they are better off financially today than they were a year ago.

(The figure for the electorate as a whole is a rock-bottom 15%.) And during a period in which party affiliation has a much greater effect on economic evaluations than it did two decades ago, only 26% of Democrats say that their economic circumstances have improved over the past year. Just 19% of Black Americans, 14% of Hispanics, 12% of young adults, and 21% of the full electorate believe that economic conditions are getting better, while an outright majority of voters (52%) say that things are getting worse.

President Biden continues to get low marks for his handling of inflation. Overall, only 35% of voters approve of his handling of this issue. Among Hispanics, just 34% approve; for young adults, 28%; among lower-income voters, 29%.

When it comes to the economy, Donald Trump enjoys a clear edge over Biden. According to a CBS News poll released in early March, 65% of voters rate the economy as good during Trump’s presidency, compared to 38% under Biden. Only 17% believe that Biden’s policies will make prices go down, compared to 44% for Trump. Consistent with these findings, 55% think that Trump would do a better job of dealing with the economy, compared to 33% who think that Biden would.1

These recent polls are a snapshot, not a forecast. Much can change between now and Election Day, as it has in the past. In 2012, for example, President Obama faced negative economic ratings and low consumer confidence early on. But as the year went on, voters’ sentiments improved, and Obama went on to defeat Mitt Romney in the fall. If the pace of inflation continues to moderate, allowing the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates, history could repeat itself. If this improvement occurs early enough to affect public opinion, which typically lags behind actual economic conditions, an outright decline in food prices might be enough to secure a second term for Biden, but there are few signs that this will occur. He will have to hope that the stabilization of prices will be enough to change the voters’ evaluation of his performance for the better.

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