The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Inflation is rising, Biden’s polls are falling, and his message is failing

President Biden speaks about the March jobs report on April 1. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
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President Biden got more bad news this week: Inflation rose to 8.5 percent, while his approval rating dropped to 33 percent in a new Quinnipiac University poll, tying the lowest mark of any major public survey during his presidency.

Normally, during a foreign policy crisis, Americans rally around the commander in chief. Instead, the opposite is happening. Not only do Americans disapprove of his handling of the economy, just 39 percent approve of Biden’s handling of the Russia-Ukraine war.

Americans believe Biden’s policies are a disaster, and his efforts to convince them otherwise are backfiring. The only thing people hate more than a failed president is a failed president who lies to them. If he wants to stop the bleeding, here is some advice for Biden on what not to say to the American people.

First, stop touting rising wages. Biden boasts about how “working people actually got a raise” under his administration and the “positive real wage growth” his policies have unleashed. But Americans know full well that wage growth has been completely wiped out by the record inflation his policies have unleashed.

In February, when inflation was still 7.5 percent, average net hourly wages fell 2.7 percent from a year earlier after accounting for inflation — “the 12th straight monthly drop in inflation-adjusted wages.” From February to March, inflation rose another 1.2 percent — the largest month-to-month jump in 17 years — which means real wages have fallen even further. And as real wages are declining, the cost of gas and food is rising far faster than that 8.5 percent inflation figure. The week before Biden’s inauguration, the price of a gallon of regular gas in the United States was $2.65; today it is $4.07 — a 54 percent rise since he took office. The prices of meat, poultry and fish are up 13.8 percent; milk is up 13.3 percent; eggs are up 11.2 percent; fresh fruit is up 10.1 percent. When Americans can’t afford to fill their tanks and grocery carts, they don’t want to hear Biden bragging about the amazing wage increases he has given them.

Second, stop crowing about low unemployment. Biden boasts that he has presided over the “fastest decline in unemployment to start a president’s term ever recorded.” That’s because millions of Americans are not participating in the labor force. There are nearly 11.3 million unfilled jobs in the United States today. One of the reasons we have record inflation is because we have a record labor shortage. Prices are rising because supply can’t keep up with demand because businesses can’t find workers. When Biden claims credit for low unemployment, it makes him appear completely out of touch with the lived reality of small business owners and the consumers they are struggling to serve.

Third, stop asking Congress to approve more spending. Biden keeps trying to revive elements of his failed Build Back Better agenda. But the reason Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) killed the legislation was because of his concerns about inflation. With inflation rising even higher, he is even less likely to support more government spending. Americans understand that Biden’s $1.9 trillion in social spending disguised as “covid-19 relief” helped create record inflation and labor shortages — and that more government spending will make things worse. An October 2021 Gallup poll finds that a 52 percent majority of Americans think the government is trying to do too many things — up from 41 percent the year before. Calling for more government is the opposite of what most Americans want.

Finally, stop blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin for domestic policy failures. “I’m doing everything within my power … [to] address the Putin price hike,” Biden said Tuesday. Americans are not stupid. Yes, they know that Russia’s invasion has affected prices at the pump, and an ABC/Ipsos poll shows that 71 percent correctly hold Putin responsible for his part in this. Yet, despite those costs, 79 percent support placing even tighter sanctions on Russia. It’s a price they are willing to pay to support the Ukrainian people.

But that doesn’t mean Americans buy Biden’s effort to shift the blame onto Putin. A 51 percent majority also blame the president for rising gas prices, and 69 percent disapprove of his handling of inflation.

Americans know that before the war in Ukraine began, Biden presided over the fastest year-over-year gas price rise in at least 30 years. They know that before the war in Ukraine began, Biden had already ushered in the worst inflation in four decades. By blaming Putin for inflation, Biden is using the suffering of the Ukrainian people to cover for his disastrous economic policies.

In the midst of rising inflation and falling real wages, Biden’s message to the American people appears to be: Don’t believe your lying eyes. Things are better than you think. And, oh, by the way, it’s not my fault. As Biden’s plummeting poll numbers confirm, those are not winning messages.

correction

An earlier version of this column incorrectly reported the percent rise in gas prices since President Biden took office. This version has been updated.

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