President Biden wants to convince Americans that the economy is better than they think and that he deserves credit for changing it.
He calls his strategy “bidenomics” and it has already become a central theme of his upcoming campaign.
“Bidenomics works,” he said in a June 28 speech in Chicago.
This promotional pitch will be an uphill battle. Most Americans are not just skeptical about the economic recovery, they are downright pessimistic. A Gallup poll last month found that 66% thought the economy was getting worse, not better. In an AP/NORC poll from May, 64% disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy, including a frightening 39% of Democrats.
Doyle McManus is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. (Los Angeles Times/MCT) ** OUTS – ELSENT, FPG, TCN – OUTS ** ** OUTS – ELSENT, FPG, TCN – OUTS ** ** OUTS – ELSENT, FPG, TCN – OUTS ** ** OUTS – ELSENT, FPG, TKS – AUTS **
But even though most voters see this as a strike against him, it’s a prudent policy for Biden to claim ownership of the economy.
First, this question cannot be avoided by any presidential candidate, especially the incumbent president.
“You can bet Donald Trump will ask voters: Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Democratic strategist Doug Sosnick predicted. “Biden should have an answer to that question.”
Secondly, the facts are gradually leaning towards Biden. The economy is growing at about 2% a year, jobs remain high, and most importantly from a political standpoint, inflation has come down to 4% from last year’s peak of 9%. After two years of rising prices faster than wages, real incomes are slowly rising again.
“Bidenomics in action,” the president recently exclaimed when the Labor Department reported that 209,000 new jobs were created in June.
White House officials expressed disappointment that voters failed to notice – let alone celebrate – these upbeat numbers.
But the gloomy mood of the public is not so mysterious.
Inflation is declining, but prices are still stuck at inflationary levels.
“The consumer price index is 16% higher than when Biden came to power,” said Republican pollster David Winston.
And while growth appears strong, financial experts continue to warn that a recession could hit any day, especially if the Federal Reserve raises interest rates again.
Biden is betting that if the economy continues to improve, public opinion will change as well — and he wants to be recognized when that happens.
Hence “bidenomics” – a cheeky way to claim authorship of the restoration, which most voters do not yet see.
“Good things are happening in the economy, but the average American doesn’t necessarily associate them with the president,” a Biden aide told me. “We need to make sure people make a direct connection with his economic agenda.”
As an economic strategy, bidenonomics is essentially a set of industrial policy initiatives that the president managed to get through Congress during his first two years in office, focusing on infrastructure, high-tech manufacturing, and renewable energy.
As a political strategy, it boils down to job creation. Between today and Election Day, expect plenty of photos of Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other officials admiring bridges, tunnels and high-tech assembly lines.
Last week in South Carolina, the president touted the bridges his grants are rebuilding and boasted that workers in the new semiconductor plants would earn up to $100,000 a year—”and you don’t need a degree!”
But he didn’t have much to say about inflation other than promising that it was still “one of my top priorities.”
This omission has angered some centrist democrats.
“I would love more of a story about Joe Biden, the inflation fighter,” said Will Marshall, president of the moderate Progressive Policy Institute.
Needless to say, Republicans have renewed their longstanding accusation that Biden’s spending programs are fueling inflation in the first place.
But Biden doesn’t need to convince every voter that his policies have succeeded. If he manages to sway a majority of Democrats unhappy with his management of the economy, his re-election campaign will be on firmer ground.
What is important is not how bidenonomics looks now, but how it will look in a year, when voters will make decisions.
This is Biden’s game.
If the economy continues to improve, Biden has already told voters why he deserves respect.
If the Fed sends the economy into recession, it won’t be able to claim those bragging rights, but it will be able to claim that it tried.
Doyle McManus is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.