Why Americans aren't giving Biden credit on improving economy, according to experts

The president is pushing 'Bidenomics' as the 2024 race kicks into high gear.

July 6, 2023, 2:07 PM

President Joe Biden is leaning into the political branding "Bidenomics" as his 2024 reelection effort kicks into high gear.

He and top advisers renewed their push to keep improving economic news and his overall sprawling vision in the public eye with a stop Thursday in the swing state of South Carolina as part of an "Investing in America" tour.

There, he announced clean energy investments that will create 1,800 jobs nationwide.

"Our plan is working," Biden said. "And one of the things I'm proudest of is it's working everywhere."

The fresh messaging comes as the administration has been buoyed by positive numbers on inflation, unemployment and more.

The state of the economy and how it affects Americans personally is traditionally a key -- if not the most important -- issue for voters. But their perceptions can lag behind the numbers and many remain unconvinced Biden has done a good job handling the economy, polls show, while Republicans are hitting him on it at every turn on the campaign trail.

"There's been this unprecedented gap between what the data shows us is going on in the economy and what people think is going on in the economy," Heidi Shierholz, president of the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, told ABC News.

President Joe Biden speaks about a new manufacturing partnership between Enphase Energy and Flex, at Flex LTD in West Columbia, S.C., on July 6, 2023.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Improving economic picture

Inflation has dropped for 11 straight months, from its peak of 9.1% in June of last year to 4.0% in May. Unemployment stands at 3.7%, which is a near 50-year low, and 13 million jobs have been added since Biden took office.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell last week praised the resiliency of the U.S. economy, and said while a recession is still possible it's not the most likely case.

"Over the last year, things have turned out a lot better than a lot of economists thought it would," Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, told ABC News.

The White House, in addition to touting the above economic indicators, is pushing three major pieces of legislation passed under Biden they say will reinvigorate America’s economy over the next decade: the Chips and Science Act, Inflation Reduction Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

A new report from the Treasury Department highlighted manufacturing construction spending has doubled since the end of 2021 and the passage of the bills.

"For the first time in a long time, there's enthusiasm about building high-tech factories in the United States," said Brad Setser, a former trade and Treasury official in the Biden and Obama administrations.

Despite the progress, Biden remains underwater with voters when it comes to the economy. One recent poll from ABC News and the Washington Post found Americans 54-36% said former President Donald Trump did a better job handling the economy when he was in office than Biden's done so far.

Why voters remain unconvinced

One major reason why voters may not be giving Biden credit, economists said, is that inflation is still uncomfortably high and wages have only just started to keep up with price hikes. Powell said last week the target inflation rate of 2% is not expected to be reached until 2025, and more interest rate hikes could be in store to bring that data point down.

"It's painfully high," Zandi said of inflation. "It's moderating but still people are having to shell out more of their income to maintain their purchasing power."

Political observers also noted bad economic news, such as when gas prices rose to over $5 a gallon or inflation reached a 40-year high, is often more salient in the news and to voters than good economic news.

Republicans have been united in bashing Biden on that front, accusing him of stoking inflation with large spending packages and hurting companies through "woke" policies.

So far, Democrats have produced a weaker counterpunch, said Dean Baker, the co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

"The Democrats have been much less effective in focusing on a message and getting everyone to repeat it," Baker told ABC News. "For better or worse, Republicans largely do that. So I think Biden has an uphill battle, but I think he does have a very good story to sell."

Is the 'Bidenomics' pitch a gamble?

Biden will continue to talk economy on Friday when he announces new actions to lower health care costs and fight junk fees.

The messaging push, however, isn't without risk.

President Joe Biden and Rep. Jim Clyburn arrive for a tour at Flex LTD July 6, 2023, in West Columbia, S.C.
Evan Vucci/AP

One of the most important questions moving forward, according to political scientist John Sides, is whether inflation continues to cool and real wages grow without economic contraction.

"If those economic trends continue, I would expect news coverage of the economy to become more positive and I would expect consumer confidence to increase," Sides told ABC News. "I would expect Biden's approval rating to rise as well. That would make his reelection more likely, even if his approval rating isn't 'high' in absolute terms. It would also become more difficult for his opponent to center a campaign on economic fundamentals."

But should the economy worsen, Sides said Biden should "certainly focus on a different issue."

"The moment to make that decision would be in the first few months of 2024," Sides said. "Election-year trends in the economy are the most important to voters, so what happens in 2024 will be crucial for Biden's strategy and his reelection prospects."

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