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You can see it at the grocery store, the gas station and your heating bill (though, mercifully, not at the liquor store): Prices are getting higher. Since October of last year, prices for consumer goods have risen 6.2 percent — the biggest year-over-year increase since 1990 — according to a report released Wednesday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Prices are on the rise in nearly every category, including gas, food and housing, largely as a result of supply chain disruption, labor shortages and lingering effects of the pandemic.
Despite a mix of coverage in the media, the prevailing message from officials seems to be “don’t panic.” The Federal Reserve predicts this period of rising prices to be “transitory,” and there are signs that price increases are starting to slow. But in the meantime, Americans are worried about inflation, and most blame the Biden administration, according to recent polls. It’s why Biden switched gears this week, going from celebrating the passage of his bipartisan infrastructure bill to addressing inflation concerns.
If you haven’t noticed prices going up, you’re in the minority. Seventy-six percent of U.S. adults said gas prices had gone up “a lot,” and 65 percent said food prices had gone up “a lot,” according to an Economist/YouGov poll conducted Nov. 6-9. One in four Americans said they spent more on groceries in October, compared with September, according to a Morning Consult poll conducted Oct. 29 through Nov. 3. And a Scott Rasmussen national survey conducted Oct. 11-13 found that 77 percent of registered voters had “recently experienced sharp increases in the cost of items they would like to buy.”
Americans are also anticipating prices to continue to rise, especially as we head into the holiday season. In a different Morning Consult poll, which was conducted Oct. 29 through Nov. 1, a majority of Americans anticipated prices for consumer tech, food, travel, toys and jewelry would be higher this year than in previous years, and planned to compensate for the increase by hunting for deals. As the holidays approach, consumers have been most concerned about the cost of meat, produce and dairy, according to the first Morning Consult poll. Forty-eight percent of Americans were “very concerned” about the cost of meat, 37 percent about produce and 33 percent about dairy. A plurality of consumers (46 percent) said they “often” compared prices to reduce their grocery costs.
Americans are not happy about these price increases. In a Daily Kos/Civiqs poll conducted Oct. 30 through Nov. 2, 78 percent of registered voters said they were dissatisfied with the price of gas (only 5 percent said they were satisfied) and 75 percent said they were dissatisfied with the price of consumer goods like food, clothing and household items. This dissatisfaction about the price of consumer goods was highest among Republicans, at 92 percent, compared with 57 percent of Democrats and 78 percent of independents.
Americans are feeling the price increases in their pocketbooks. That Economist/YouGov poll found 56 percent of Americans said it was at least somewhat difficult to afford gas, with 55 percent saying the same about food and 48 percent saying the same about housing costs. A Fox News poll conducted Oct. 16-19 showed concern about inflation was higher than it’d been for the past four months, with 87 percent of registered voters saying they were “very” or “extremely” concerned about inflation and higher prices.
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Increased prices can impact voters’ political views of the economy overall because their effects are felt so immediately, contributing to Biden’s negative approval rating. “There is a psychology to inflation that is different from everything else, and it tends to drive how people view the economy because they experience it every day whether it is at the grocery store, gas pump or buying household goods,” John Anzalone, a Democratic pollster, told the Los Angeles Times.
Polling captures how voters are thinking about inflation as a political issue. A plurality of registered voters (40 percent) said the Biden administration’s policies were “very responsible” for the inflation, and a majority (62 percent) said the administration’s policies were at least “somewhat responsible,” according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted Oct. 16-18. In a Harvard/Harris poll conducted Oct. 27-28, 56 percent of registered voters said they weren’t confident in the Biden administration’s ability to keep inflation at bay, and 53 percent said the same about the Federal Reserve’s ability. A majority (56 percent) said that Congress passing a $1.5 to $2 trillion social spending bill (such as the one they’re currently trying to pass) would lead to more inflation.
While the public reaction is out of step with expert forecasts, their fears should not be brushed aside. Some economists theorize that, left unchecked, fears about inflation can make the situation worse by creating a self-fulfilling prophecy in which employees, afraid of rising prices, demand higher wages, the costs of which employers would then cover through raising prices, leading to higher inflation. This is what happened in the 1970s, and it led to nearly double-digit inflation rates. Regardless of how transitory the Fed thinks these price increases will be, Americans are worried right now.
Other polling bites
- The 2022 midterm elections are a little less than a year away, and an endorsement from Biden, whose approval rating is low, may not be an attractive option for all candidates. Most likely voters (51 percent) said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by the president, per a Rasmussen Reports poll.
- Americans aren’t satisfied with how Biden has handled what they say is the nation’s top issue: the economy. A plurality of Americans (36 percent) said the economy was the most important issue in the U.S., according to a recent CNN/SSRS poll. And a majority (58 percent) said Biden hadn’t paid enough attention to the country’s most important problems.
- COVID-19 cases have stopped declining in the U.S., but many Americans are ready to return to pre-COVID life. Per a recent Axios/Ipsos poll, a small majority of Americans (55 percent) thought returning to their pre-COVID lives now came at a small risk or no risk to their health, and 50 percent of Americans said they felt they were at less risk of contracting COVID-19 now, compared with April 2020.
- About 900,000 children ages 5 to 11 received their first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine just one week after the vaccine was approved for that age group. Before the vaccine was approved, an October Kaiser Family Foundation poll found just 27 percent of parents with children ages 5 to 11 said they would vaccinate their kids “right away” once eligible. That hesitancy was in large part about the long-term effects of the vaccine in children (76 percent of parents surveyed) and that their child might have serious side effects from the vaccine (71 percent).
- On Monday, the U.S. lifted a travel ban for vaccinated visitors from 33 countries, including Mexico, Canada and the United Kingdom. But some international travelers don’t feel comfortable traveling to the U.S. A Morning Consult poll found that 60 percent of Canadian adults didn’t feel comfortable planning a trip anywhere in the U.S. and 41 percent of Mexican adults are uncomfortable. In Europe, 45 percent of adults in the United Kingdom, 42 percent in Germany and 36 percent in France were uncomfortable planning a trip to the U.S.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.5 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 51.6 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -9.1 points).1 At this time last week, 42.7 percent approved and 50.5 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -7.8 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 44.6 percent and a disapproval rating of 49.2 percent (a net approval rating of -4.6 points).
In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead Republicans by 1.3 percentage points (42.5 percent to 41.2 percent, respectively).2 A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 2.3 percentage points (43.4 percent to 41.2 percent, respectively). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats over Republicans by 2.9 points (44.4 percent to 41.6 percent).