The centrality of voters’ perceptions of the economy to their voting intentions is one of the most time-tested assertions in public opinion research. However, the latest research by Redfield & Wilton Strategies suggests that persistent inflation and the onset of a recession have transformed the economy into an even more dominant factor in voting considerations ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
As of July 2022, the economy tops voters’ priorities in the United States, with 61% of Americans citing it as one of the three most important drivers of their voting intentions in the upcoming midterm elections. Since January 2022, the economy has consistently held the top spot, always exceeding 50% and finding itself at least 15% ahead of the second most-cited priority area.
This gap might narrow with the increasing prominence of the issue of abortion, which has risen to its 2022 peak of 39% as of July 28, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and leave abortion laws up to Congress or individual states.
The importance of the economy to US voters poses severe challenges for President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party. 48% of voters disapprove of President Biden’s economic record; 32% do so strongly. Almost a third of voters (31%) cite the economy as President Biden’s worst policy area, more than twice as many as for any other issue, and only 6% view it as his best policy area. Moreover, as many as 50% of voters consider President Biden’s economic record to be worse than that of his predecessor, Donald Trump, while only 27% believe the opposite.
Altogether, a plurality of voters (47% and 33% respectively) believe their financial situation has worsened over the past three months and will worsen over the next three months.
In the coming months, the economy can be expected to maintain its primary importance to voters as the country’s economic problems are likely to persist, with year-to-year inflation exceeding 9% as of July 2022. Even if US monetary policy continues to tighten, the widely expected energy-related shortages and supply bottlenecks in the autumn and winter seem likely to keep prices on the rise.
Furthermore, the US has seen negative GDP growth for two consecutive quarters, an event commonly defined as a recession. President Biden’s fiddling of the definition of what counts or does not count as a “recession” contrasts heavily with voters’ grim economic outlook. 53% of them expect the economy to worsen in the next three months, and 37% disagree with the suggestion that high inflation will be temporary.
While voters—in the US and elsewhere—already often cite the economy as their main voting consideration in less turbulent economic times, the unique economic challenges facing the US at the moment suggest that its electoral implications are about to become particularly powerful. With just over three months to go until the 2022 midterm elections, the economy is certain to constitute a crucial battleground for voters’ hearts and minds.