WASHINGTON (AP) — More U.S. adults are now feeling financially vulnerable amid high inflation — a political risk for President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats one month before the midterm elections.
Some 46% of people now call their personal financial situation poor, up from 37% in March, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. That’s a notable downturn at a particularly inopportune moment for Biden, given that the share of Americans who felt positive about their finances had stayed rock steady over the last few years — even during the economic turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And while a majority of Americans see high prices as beyond Biden’s control, they continue to disapprove of his handling of the economy overall.
Overall, 54% say their finances are good in the latest survey. That figure was at least 62% through the global recession caused by the pandemic in 2020, and even in late 2021 and early 2022 as prices began to rise across the country. But inflation’s prolonged bite has left the U.S. and wider world facing the possibility of a downturn and, despite solid job growth, more consumers are feeling the pain.
In Salado, Texas, Bethany Saunders saw the rate she paid for electricity double in August, and her water bill jumped as well as she dealt with a summer heat and drought. Her utilities bills totaled $800, a shock to the 43-year-old, who had carefully budgeted after going without a pay raise for two years.
“That just drained my bank account — I’m not rich, but I knew what I could live on,” said Saunders, who voted Republican in 2020 and plans to do so again this year.
Overall, views of Biden and of the direction of the country held steady in October, after improving somewhat in September. Forty-three percent say they approve of how Biden is handling his job as president, while 25% say the country is headed in the right direction. Biden’s approval rating had dropped as low as 36% in a July AP-NORC poll, and the percentage saying the country is headed in the right direction dropped as low as 14% in June.
The president has been steadfast in saying he believes the economy can escape a recession, and he said in an interview broadcast Tuesday by CNN that any potential downturn would be modest.
“I don’t think there will be a recession,” Biden told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “If it is, it’ll be a very slight recession. That is, we’ll move down slightly.”
Saunders doesn’t think Biden is entirely to blame for her higher bills, but she said h is $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package from last year with its direct payments to Americans was excessive. Some leading economists say the money helped ignite inflation that reached a 40-year peak in June. The government will release an inflation report on Thursday, and economists expect it to show that prices rose 8.1% in September from a year ago.
“I see him throwing money at things we don’t need,” Saunders said of Biden. “It makes me think of the Oprah episode that became famous. ‘You get a car, you get a car, you get a car.’”
The drop in financial well-being was especially acute among Americans in households making less than $50,000 a year, just 33% of whom now call their personal finances good compared with 50% in March. Sixty-one percent of those in household making between $50,000 and $100,000 call their personal finances good, as do 75% of those making more than that — both down only slightly since earlier in the year.
In the latest poll, 23% call the national economy good. That’s similar to the percentage in June but down slightly from 29% in September, when views of the national economy had shown signs of improvement. The drop since September came primarily among Democrats, from 46% then to 35% now. In September, Democrats had appeared increasingly optimistic about the economy compared with earlier in the summer.
Sandra Baker, 56, said she voted for Biden and intends to support Democrats in this year’s elections. The Lincoln, Nebraska resident said the president is trying his best to fix the economy and address political divides.
“He’s doing all he can do, but everything else is so screwed up it doesn’t really matter,” Baker said. “The general vibe — everything the Democrats do — seems to be toward helping the little man and it’s always been like that.”
But the economy has proved a challenge — with gasoline costs becoming a renewed source of financial pressure. The average price at the pump was $3.92 a gallon on Wednesday, up roughly 5.5% from a month ago, according to AAA. Support for Biden had picked up after a 99-day drop in gas prices from a June high that ended in September.
Views of Biden’s handling of the economy remain underwater. Only 36% say they approve and 63% disapprove. But Americans aren’t heaping all the blame for inflation at Biden’s feet: 55% say higher than usual prices are mostly because of factors outside Biden’s control, while 44% say that’s happening mostly because of Biden’s policies.
The president has blamed rising energy and food prices on Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine. He’s also blasted oil companies and refineries for raking in profits off the higher prices, instead of doing more to increase production. Saudi Arabia and other countries tied to OPEC dealt the U.S. a further blow last week by announcing plans to cut oil production by 2 million barrels a day in response to the slowing economy, a move that the administration said would support oil exporters such as Russia.
There are bright spots in the poll for Biden — 55% say they approve of how he’s handling the coronavirus pandemic, long one of his strongest issues, and 63% approve of his handling of natural disaster relief following Hurricane Ian, which battered Florida two weeks ago. On the other hand, just 39% approve of how Biden is handling immigration.
The poll of 1,121 adults was conducted Oct. 6-10 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.