January 27, 2024 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
The public isn’t ‘skeptical’ of Biden’s strong economic performance — just Republicans
Why is he leaning into ‘Bidenomics’? It’s working
Hi and welcome to the weekend! I’m your editor, John Stoehr. Today’s edition of the Editorial Board goes out to everyone, because the subject is so important. Not enough people understand the true source of the “problem” facing the president when it comes to the economy. Read on for more, and reply with any feedback you might have. I love feedback. And also, if you’re not a paid subscriber, now’s a great time to click this subscription link. It’s only $6 a month! Thanks! –JS
It wasn’t long ago that the president made a pitch to a “skeptical public” about the impact of his administration’s policies on the US economy. That’s according to an AP report in June that was published after Joe Biden delivered a major speech in Chicago during which he used, for the first time, the term “Bidenomics.”
“Biden said his administration’s efforts were sparking recovery after Republican policies had crushed America’s middle class,” the AP said. But, according to an AP-NORC poll taken beforehand, “only one in three US adults approve of his economic leadership. That 34 percent figure is even lower than his overall approval rating of 41 percent.”
The AP report is representative of a reporting genre that we saw throughout 2023 according to which there was, allegedly for the president, a vexing disconnect between what he said about the economy – falling prices, cooling inflation, rising wages and historically low unemployment – and what people said they were feeling.
YouGov’s survey question isn’t unique. When other polling firms have asked respondents what they think of the economy, the Republicans among them give answers reflective of their feelings toward the president. If he’s a Democrat, it’s bad. If not, it’s good. No other cohort behaves like this. Only Republicans act with such conformity.
This reporting genre appeared so frequently that it grew into a news narrative so big that it has become the lens through which much of the Washington press corps now views the president’s reelection campaign. Biden says the economy is booming, but how is he going to “handle” negative perceptions of it? The more he talks up the economy in the face of a “skeptical public,” the more he risks talking down to people.
Fast-forward to Thursday and we can see that Biden wasn’t just fluffing his own policies. He was taking credit for actual accomplishments, though he couldn’t have known their magnitude at the time.
Bloomberg said that, according to data just released, the economy grew by a stunning 3.2 percent last year, continuing “its seemingly unstoppable ascent out of the pandemic recession and its inflationary aftermath, further burying wrong calls of recession by posting fourth-quarter growth numbers that crushed forecasts” (my italics).
Bloomberg went on to say that “cooling inflation has fueled consumer spending amid continued, near-record low unemployment and rising wages.” Moreover, “the economy’s main growth engine — personal spending — rose at a 2.8 percent rate while business investment and housing also helped fuel the larger-than-expected advance.”
In other words, Bidenomics is working.
Indeed, last year was “miraculous,” wrote Times columnist Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, on Twitter. “High growth with inflation falling all the way back to the Fed’s target [and] rising real wages. And here, according to YouGov, is how Republicans saw it.”
It’s “here” that you’ll find the source of that alleged disconnect between what Biden says about the economy and what a “skeptical public” is feeling. It’s “here” that you’ll find the true source of the narrative lens through which the Washington press corps has decided to view Biden’s reelection campaign. It’s “here” that Paul Krugman posted a picture.
The picture was a screenshot (click here to see it) of aggregate polling taken by YouGov. Since 2009, the polling firm has asked every week: “Overall, do you think the economy is getting better or worse?” And while most people seem to have tried giving a good-faith assessment of the economy, and Biden’s handling of it, guess who hasn’t? Republicans.
Since 2009, Republican respondents to YouGov’s tracking poll have said that the economy is bad whenever a Democrat was in the White House. This is clear from the data. No matter what Barack Obama did, the economy was bad. No matter what Biden does, it’s bad. The only exception – it’s right there in the picture – is when Donald Trump was president. There’s a virtual line straight down, in 2016, from the economy is worse to the economy is better. The inverse is also true – an unmistakable straight line up – from 2020 to the present.
YouGov’s survey isn’t unique. When other polling firms have asked respondents what they think about the economy, the Republicans among them give answers reflective of their feelings toward the president. If he’s a Democrat, it’s bad. If not, it’s good. No other cohort behaves like this. Only Republicans act with such conformity.
Members of the Washington press corps have known that this has been happening since 2009. They have known that Republican responses to polling questions about the economy have warped the average of these polls. They have known that this has been happening, but continue framing this reporting genre as if the truth isn’t what it is, namely that Biden isn’t facing a “skeptical public” so much as he’s facing skeptical Republicans, who are benefiting from the impact of the president’s economic policies but refuse to give him credit for it.
Fortunately, the president hasn’t let this deter him.
He’s leaning into “Bidenomics,” as he should.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.