As recently as this summer, Joe Biden seemed to be taking a “keep calm and carry on” approach when it came to concerns about rising inflation.
“As our economy has come roaring back, we’ve seen some price increases,” the US president said in July. “Our experts believe and the data shows that most of the price increases we’ve seen were expected and expected to be temporary.”
But now, with inflation hitting a 30-year high last month, Biden’s tone has become noticeably less upbeat.
“Everything from a gallon of gas to a loaf of bread costs more,” Biden said in Baltimore earlier this month. “We still face challenges, and we have to tackle them. We have to tackle them head on.”
Americans are taking notice of high prices with growing alarm, and their concerns appear to be negatively affecting Biden’s approval rating, which had already been falling in recent months. As the US experiences sticker shock at the gas pump and in grocery stores, Democrats are worried that inflation could imperil their legislative agenda and their majorities in Congress as crucial midterm elections loom next year.
While the president and fellow Democrats had previously sought to downplay rising inflation, it has become an unavoidable issue as prices continue to climb. The labor department has reported that prices increased by 6.2% over the past 12 months, marking the most rapid uptick since 1990. Gasoline prices have increased by 49.6% over the past year, while food prices have risen by 5.3%.
As prices rise, more working Americans are noticing their bills have become more burdensome. According to a poll conducted by the progressive firm Navigator Research this month, 54% of Americans now say the cost of groceries and gas is a “major crisis”, marking a 17-point increase since September.
Republicans have blamed the price increases on Biden’s economic policies, arguing that rising inflation underscores the need to oust Democratic lawmakers in the midterm elections next year.
“As Biden and Democrats continue to push for trillions more in reckless spending and higher taxes, skyrocketing prices and a broken supply chain under Biden are crushing American families, workers and small businesses,” said Emma Vaughn, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee. “Americans will soundly reject Biden’s failed economic agenda at the ballot box in 2022.”
There are some early signs that Republicans’ message is striking a chord with voters, as the party looks to take back control of Congress in 2022.
An AP VoteCast survey showed that 35% of Virginia voters named the economy and jobs as the most important issue facing the state, making it the most common response. Those voters were more likely to support the Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, who defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe by two points in the election held earlier this month.
And it’s not just Republicans who are sounding the alarm about price hikes. Senator Joe Manchin, one of the key holdouts in Democrats’ negotiations over their $1.75tn spending package, has said he is hearing more from constituents who are concerned about their gas and grocery bills.