Food inflation is hurting Biden the most

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When it comes to inflation, food costs are Americans’ biggest concern, by far, according to a new Yahoo Finance-Ipsos survey on President Biden’s economic policies. And most Americans think inflation will get worse leading up to the 2024 election, even if economic data suggests the opposite.

Gasoline prices tend to get outsized attention, given that they’re advertised in huge numbers at every filling station in the country. But food prices are a far bigger concern in most households. In our survey, 67% of respondents cited food costs as their top inflation concern, compared with just 15% saying gas and transportation costs are their top concern. Housing came in third, with 12% saying that’s their biggest inflation worry.

Ipsos polled 1,103 registered voters on behalf of Yahoo Finance, from Oct. 20 through Oct. 22. Many polls already show Biden underwater with voters on economic issues, with the RealClearPolitics aggregate showing only about 38% approve of Biden’s handling of the economy. Instead of duplicating those polls, we wanted to dig deeper into specific concerns voters have — and into implications for Biden’s reelection odds in 2024.

The outlook for inflation and the broader economy are obvious concerns for Biden. Rising inflation coincided with Biden’s declining approval rating in 2022. Inflation has dropped sharply from a peak of 9% in June 2022 to 3.7%. But Biden’s approval rating is stuck at around 40%, and it has shown no improvement at all even as inflation has improved.

Voters don’t seem to believe inflation is getting better. In the Yahoo Finance-Ipsos poll, 62% said inflation will get worse during the next 12 months, while only 11% think it will go down and 27% think it will stay about the same. Many economists are more optimistic, given that inflation has already dropped and the Federal Reserve’s effort to tame inflation by hiking short-term interest rates seems to be working.

Voter gloom about inflation reflects broader concern about the overall economy. Fifty-six percent of voters think the economy will weaken during the next year, while only 8% think the economy will get stronger. Thirty-five percent say the economy will stay about the same.

Many Americans feel worse off under Biden, and they don’t expect that to change. Forty-six percent say Biden’s policies have hurt them, while only 17% say Biden’s policies have helped. As for the next 12 months, 29% expect their financial circumstances to worsen, while just 23% expect them to improve. Forty-seven percent expect their circumstances to stay about the same.

Polls normally show a partisan split, with members of the president’s party more upbeat on his performance than members of the opposing party. Our poll is no different, with Democrats considerably more upbeat on the Biden economy than Republicans. That shifts the focus to voters who identify as Independent and are more likely than Democrats or Republicans to be key swing voters who could tip the 2024 election one way or the other.

The bad news for Biden is that Independents are roughly as gloomy about inflation and the future economy as the overall electorate. But there may be a silver lining or two Biden could exploit. As much as inflation has dogged Biden’s presidency, voters see other causes besides Biden. In the Yahoo Finance-Ipsos poll, 27% blamed inflation on current government policies, which we interpret to mean Biden, the incumbent. But 70% cited a reason other than Biden.

Twenty-six percent of voters said corporate greed was the main cause of inflation. Another 16% blamed COVID disruptions, while 10% blamed excessive stimulus programs signed into law under both Biden and his predecessor, President Trump. Eight percent blamed global conflict and 5% blamed the Federal Reserve. Among Independents, only 23% blamed current government policies, while 74% blamed something else.

We also found that Americans don’t give Biden credit for what is going right in the economy. The 14 million new jobs created since Biden took office is the most in any presidential administration, ever. The unemployment rate is near all-time lows. Yet only 7% told us they think job growth under Biden has been unusually strong, while just 25% think the unemployment rate is unusually low. The rest think the job market is around average, or weaker than usual.

We found one more gap between perception and reality: Voters have a gloomier view of other people’s prospects than they do of their own. Twenty-three percent of poll respondents, for instance, said they’re getting ahead under Biden, while only 5% said that Americans overall are getting ahead. Only 27% said they’ve been falling behind under Biden, but 49% felt other Americans are falling behind. Biden has some real economic problems to fix, but he also faces an electorate that feels a little more sour than it needs to.

Rick Newman is a senior columnist for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @rickjnewman.

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