In an insightful opinion piece for The New York Times, former economic aide for Barack Obama, Steven Rattner, acknowledges President Joe Biden’s challenges in changing American voters’ negative perceptions of the country’s direction and his handling of the economy, particularly inflation.
Rattner emphasizes that voters’ pessimistic attitudes are grounded in valid concerns, as shown by Civiqs data revealing that only 23 percent of Americans believe the nation is progressing positively. He attributes this “sour national mood” to inflation worries and widespread uncertainty about the broader economic outlook, particularly among young Americans.
Highlighting a Blueprint/YouGov poll, Rattner notes that only 7 percent of respondents expressed significant concerns about job availability, while 64 percent were primarily worried about rising prices. This data presents a challenge for Biden, as it indicates that voters perceive him as more focused on job creation despite his efforts to address inflation.
Moreover, Democrats face an additional hurdle, with 54 percent of voters believing that Republicans prioritize addressing prices and only 18 percent recognizing their emphasis on job creation.
Rattner suggests that voters may have internalized Biden’s initial policy agenda, which aimed to increase government spending and potentially contributed to volatile inflation. This sentiment is reflected in a March Wall Street Journal-NORC poll, where only 21 percent of respondents expressed confidence that the next generation would enjoy a higher standard of living.
The article also sheds light on the stark reality that nearly 50 percent of Americans aged 19-29 live with their parents, marking the highest rate since the Great Depression. Furthermore, Biden’s support among young Americans has declined by 10 percent since the 2020 election, with only 50 percent of voters under 30 now backing him.
Rattner admits that with the election just 11 months away, Biden may have limited options to alter the current situation significantly. While inflation appears to be easing, addressing the deeply rooted productivity problem would require tough choices and many years of sustained effort. Additionally, even if there were a national consensus on the need for action, the prevailing political divisions pose a significant obstacle.
However, Rattner offers a glimmer of hope for Biden. He suggests that shifting the focus of the 2024 campaign away from the president’s shortcomings and towards his opponent’s flaws could prove advantageous, as it did for George W. Bush in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2012.
Rattner believes that given the Republican Party’s extreme positions on issues like abortion and democracy, along with the evident character flaws of figures like Donald Trump, redirecting the campaign narrative may work in Biden’s favor despite the persistently cranky economic mood.