Inflation spikes lead to voter concerns

Republicans are likely to target inflation as a key issue in the midterm elections. It's the latest in a string of challenges for the Biden White House and Democrats.


National News

October 20, 2021 - 9:47 AM

President Joe Biden held fast to getting Congress to pass an infrastructure bill. Photo by (Max Ortiz/The Detroit News/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans alike have long expected next year’s midterm elections to hinge on the state of the coronavirus pandemic, the job market and former President Donald Trump’s influence on the GOP.

Now, they see a new potential top issue emerging: inflation.

Political strategists from both parties are closely watching the price of everyday goods, which continue to rise at higher-than-expected rates, preparing to grapple with a pocketbook issue that could resonate with voters in a way it hasn’t in decades.

Republicans in particular see the issue as a potent one for the upcoming midterm campaign, increasingly putting rising inflation rates at the heart of their attacks on the economic policies of President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress.

“I believe the economic challenges the country faces, with inflation leading them, will be the single biggest concern to voters this cycle,” said Don Conston, president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC with ties to House Republican leadership. “It’s already there, and likely that it will only intensify further going forward.”

Not everyone is so certain. Economists say they don’t know if prices will continue to increase, and even if they do, political operatives say it’s unclear whether voters will blame the president.

But veteran Democrats concede that it’s an issue they are now watching closely for the first time since the rampant inflation of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the latest in a string of challenges facing the Biden White House and the party.

“It’s like an old nightmare girlfriend from 40 years ago who shows up on your front steps,” said James Carville, chief strategist for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign.

Carville labeled the political threat of inflation “not an emergency” but a “matter of some concern.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released data showing that prices have risen 5.4% over the last year, according to the consumer price index, which tracks the cost of housing, food, energy and other items. It was the largest year-over-year rise in 13 years, well above the Federal Reserve’s target of a 2% rate of increase. That has led to growing fears in economic and political circles that inflation could continue into 2022.

The data was also released the same week that concerns about supply-chain disruptions at the nation’s ports crested, with the Biden administration announcing that the Port of Los Angeles would operate 24 hours a day to help relieve the logjam there.

White House officials have for months fended off questions about their concern over inflation, saying the price increases are only temporary and mostly a consequence of the economy returning to normal after the worst of the pandemic.

But polling has shown that voters are worried about rising prices.

A Pew Research Center survey from late last month found that 63% of Americans said they were “very concerned” about rising prices for food and consumer goods, topping the other economic issues they were asked about.

And according to a Fox News poll from mid-September, 82% of voters said they were concerned about inflation and higher prices, more than any other issue, including the pandemic and situation in Afghanistan.

Republican operatives argue that the longer inflation remains a concern, the more likely voters are to naturally blame the party in power in Washington. They say that will especially be the case if Biden’s job performance rating on the economy as a whole remains low.

Less than 40% of voters approved of Biden’s handling of the economy in a new Quinnipiac University poll, while two-thirds of voters said the economy was going in the wrong direction in the latest Politico/Morning Consult survey.

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