The media myth of Democratic momentum
The euphoric headlines are everywhere this month:
“Democrats Enter the Fall Armed With Something New: Hope” (New York Times)
“Jubilant Senate Democrats head home with momentum” (Washington Post)
Many in the media really, really want you to believe that the Democratic agenda led by President Biden is capturing the hearts and minds of voters. That what was supposed to be a red wave is now becoming a ripple, with the Blue Team instead poised to make gains in November.
It’s all wishful thinking, if recent polls — particularly one from NBC News on Sunday — are any indication. Because any objective person who understands political history knows it’s hard to envision how a president who is polling lower than any first-termer in polling history (from Truman to Trump) can possibly galvanize voters to pull the lever for his party.
According to NBC News, Joe Biden is polling at 42 percent approval and 57 disapproval, which is unchanged from May. Reuters has the president at 38 percent approval and 57 percent disapproval. His RealClearPolitics average is hovering around 40 percent approval.
But how can that be? The Inflation Reduction Act was given a big thumbs-up by more than a few news outlets and journalists who called it a “health care and climate bill” that would reduce not just inflation but prescription drug prices, too, while saving the world from the impending doom of climate-induced destruction.
Those surveyed in the NBC poll see things much differently, however.
When asked, for example, if the Inflation Reduction Act would positively impact their lives, 71 percent said it would either have no impact or would negatively impact them. When asked if the country is on the right track, just 21 percent said “yes.”
As for inflation, economist Mark Zandi, who is often quoted by the White House, finds that Americans are spending more than $400 dollars per month more for crucial items such as food, gas and clothing than they were a year ago. So much for the president’s claim that the country is experiencing the financial utopia of zero inflation.
The high cost of food, in particular, is taking a toll. According to the national charity Feeding America, 45 percent of food banks are seeing an increase in demand, while 25 million adults, per the U.S. Census Bureau, sometimes had not eaten enough in the previous week — the highest numbers since December 2020, when the pandemic was still raging.
As for the “The United States economy is not in a recession” argument, also courtesy of Democratic leaders and many media cheerleaders, 68 percent of those polled feel we are, in fact, in a recession. Two straight quarters of negative growth, and with price increases still at a 40-year high, tend to feed that perception.
Looking ahead to November’s midterm elections, 47 percent of registered voters prefer Republicans winning control of Congress, while 45 percent want Democrats in charge, per NBC.
In 2010, President Obama, polling higher at the time than Biden is today, lost 63 seats when congressional ballot polling showed a 2-point edge for the GOP in the summer of that year.
As for abortion being a huge issue in the coming election, following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, think again: It ranks sixth, with just 8 percent saying it is the most important issue to them. Climate change, a big part of legislation in the Inflation Reduction Act, clocked in with 9 percent saying it was most important to them.
So, given all these numbers from a poll that was weighted more towards Democratic voters than Republican, what’s the source of all the Democratic momentum seen by those who cover this stuff?
Perhaps it’s something which, in the sales world, is called “hopecasting,” a term applied to those hoping for a result to become true rather than looking at facts and numbers.
A CNN piece that wasn’t labelled as opinion recently declared: “Next time you stop at a gas station, think of it as a $100-a-month tax cut. Or a maybe $100-a-month raise. The steady drop in gas prices over the last few months has turned into an unexpected form of economic stimulus, coming at a time when the Federal Reserve is trying to cool the economy and battle rising prices with higher interest rates.”
Get that? Because gas prices have fallen from an all-time high in recent weeks, you just earned a $100 raise! Sure, gas prices are still 75 cents higher than they were a year ago, but that doesn’t count, apparently. It’s like your company cut your pay by $200, only to give you a bonus that equals half of the cut and called it a raise.
In the end, the perception of Biden as president is still there: too old, too slow to react to crises, as polls show. And inflation is still there. Gas prices are still where they are and could begin to rise again, according to top analysts. Crime is still a huge issue, and so is the U.S. border. This may be the reason why so many Democratic candidates don’t want to campaign with Biden or feature him in ads.
Unless conditions on the ground change, don’t expect the president’s poll numbers or his party’s dim prospects to change much as it pertains to control of the House of Representatives. The party in power almost always loses seats. And don’t expect that to change in 2022, despite those euphoric headlines.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist.