Inflation report is bad news for Democrats
Thursday’s report showing that inflation jumped higher than expected in September and that prices remain at a 40-year high comes at a bad time for Democrats, who are battling to hang onto their Senate majority and are expected to lose control of the House.
Democratic senators had expressed hope throughout this year that inflation would begin to subside before the election, but the last inflation report released before Election Day shows that prices remain stubbornly high.
That has fueled voters’ dissatisfaction over the direction of the country and weighed down President Biden’s approval rating, creating a stiff headwind for Democratic candidates heading into November.
Much of the conversation in Washington in recent weeks has revolved around what impact the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which struck down abortion rights, or negative media coverage of former President Trump would have on the midterm election.
But the fact remains that voters’ view of the economy and inflation is negative, and that’s not likely to change over the next three-and-a-half weeks.
“I think it’s probably going to be a good day for Republicans. I just think the inflation numbers are too bad,” said Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, of Election Day, which falls on Nov. 8.
“That’s the number that all polls seem to say that voters are paying most attention to,” he said of the inflation rate, which reached 8.2 percent last month compared to a year ago.
The consumer price index (CPI) jumped 0.4 percent in September, exceeding Dow Jones’s estimate of 0.3 percent.
Core CPI, a gauge closely watched by the Federal Reserve that excludes volatile food and energy prices, increased by 0.6 percent in September, bringing it 6.6 percent higher than a year ago.
Thursday’s report immediately put Democrats on the defensive.
President Biden on Thursday acknowledged that inflation would be a major issue in next month’s election but insisted that his administration has done everything to solve the problem.
“If Republicans win, inflation’s going to get worse. It’s that simple,” he told an audience in Los Angeles.
“Democrats are working to bring down the cost of things they talk about around the kitchen table, from prescription drugs, to health insurance, to energy bills and so much more,” said Biden, adding that voters would get to choose which party to lead the country in the election.
Republicans were quick to use the latest numbers to attack Biden’s economic record.
“Democrats’ runaway inflation continues to crush working families with no relief in sight,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in response to Thursday’s inflation report.
He accused Democrats of failing to take inflation seriously when they took over the Senate in 2021 and making it worse by passing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which was designed to further boost an economy that was already strong.
Republicans say the fiscal stimulus bill helped overheat the economy and ramp up inflation.
“Democrats have produced staggering 13.5 percent inflation since January 2021. That was shortly before [Senate Majority Leader Charles] Schumer [D-N.Y.] said ‘I do not think the dangers of inflation, at least in the near term, are very real’ and every Senate Democrat cast the tiebreaking vote for runaway reckless spending,” McConnell said.
The Senate is divided 50-50, giving Democrats a razor-thin majority because of Vice President Harris’s ability to cast tie-breaking votes. High inflation is bad news for Democrats trying to keep that majority.
An average of nine nationwide polls conducted between Sept. 6 and Oct. 11 showed that only 27 percent of respondents think the nation is moving in the right direction, while 67 percent think the country is on the wrong track, according to a compilation of the data by Real Clear Politics.
It’s the biggest spread between percentage of Americans who think the country is moving in the right direction and those that think the opposite that has been measured immediately before any election going back to January of 2009, according to Real Clear Politics.
On Oct. 30, 2010, a few days before the 2010 midterm election, polls showed that 33 percent of Americans thought the country was on the right track and 61 percent thought it was on the wrong track. Republicans picked up six Senate seats and 63 House seats that year.
By comparison, 32 percent of Americans thought the country was on the right track and 61 percent thought it was on the wrong track two days after Election Day 2020, when Democrats ousted President Trump from office and went on win the Senate majority.
Democratic strategists acknowledge that Thursday’s inflation report comes at a critical moment.
Steve Jarding, a Democratic strategist and former adviser to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the right track-wrong track question has been “a barometer” for gauging voter sentiment, “which is why it’s probably not a real good day for Biden or the Democrats.”
Jarding said in any other election year, he would say “batten down the hatches because this is going to be a hell of storm that’s going to take out a lot of Democrats.” But he said there are “extenuating circumstances” that might help Democrats this November, such as the investigation of Trump’s role in instigating the Jan. 6 attack.
He also cited the Supreme Court’s decision in June striking down Roe v. Wade as an extraordinary event that could drive more Democrats to the polls.
“If I see these numbers, it suggests Democrats are going to get creamed,” Jarding said in response to the inflation number and the right track-wrong track spread, but he added that Democrats can take hope in the flaws of Senate Republican candidates such as Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Herschel Walker in Georgia.
Baker, the political scientist, observed that the inflation report shows what voters are reminded of on a weekly or daily basis when they go to the gas station to fill up their car or the grocery store to fill up their cart.
“It’s very difficult to dodge it,” he said. “Americans are reminded of it on a daily basis. My wife yesterday said it cost her five dollars for a box of Reynolds Wrap. That’s absurd.”
By contrast, the issue that Democrats want to keep in the spotlight, abortion rights, is beginning to fade from voters’ minds, Baker said.
“If the Dobbs decision had been handed down nine weeks later than it was, it would have had some more effect,” he said. “People forget. They don’t see abortions every day or women going to jail for having abortions in certain states.
“What they see every day is [the price of] school-market merchandise that has gone sky high, gasoline prices that have gone through the roof and are going to go back through the roof. It’s a depressing thing,” he added.