Updated Oct 1, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Some Democrats fear Bidenomics branding is backfiring

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Biden re-election campaign's decision to brand the economy under the president's name (Bidenomics) is looking like an early blunder that misread the public's deep pessimism about how things are going on that front.

Why it matters: Despite some encouraging economic trends — unemployment is low, inflation seems to be tamed — polling shows that Americans' overall perception of the economy is sour.

Driving the news: Some prominent Democrats are now openly criticizing the Biden campaign's strategy, arguing that it appears to be in denial of Americans' economic reality.

  • "We have to do a better job framing this not so much for one person — for the office of the presidency — but for the people," Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) told Politico.
  • "I've never understood why you would brand an economy in your name when the economy hasn't fully recovered yet," Michael LaRosa, a former spokesman for Jill Biden, told the publication.
  • "Whatever stories Americans are told about the strength of the economy under President Joe Biden, they are not going to be persuaded to look past the issue of their own living standards," liberal economist James Galbraith wrote.

Zoom in: One of the Biden campaign's first advertisements carried a Reaganesque "Morning in America" vibe, arguing the nation's economy is "leading the world" while crediting the president's agenda for bringing the U.S. back from the brink.

  • Biden's messaging has been geared toward working-class Americans. He joined the UAW picket line this week in Michigan, and spoke to blue-collar workers in Philadelphia on Labor Day.
  • Last month, Biden gave a speech on Bidenomics in Prince George's County, Maryland, in which he said: "For the first time in a long time, we've climbed out of our great economic crisis. It's beginning to work for working people."
  • His campaign ads laud the passage of COVID emergency funds, the bipartisan infrastructure law, the Inflation Reduction Act and funding for semiconductor manufacturing.
  • But so far, the message isn't resonating — especially among the working-class Americans he's trying to win over. Polling indicates that college-educated voters are generally satisfied with the state of the economy, but voters living paycheck to paycheck are disillusioned.

By the numbers: Only 28% of Americans said they were "very" or "somewhat" satisfied with the state of the economy in a new NBC poll — the lowest level of economic satisfaction in nearly a decade of the network's polling.

  • Biden's economic approval rating sits at 37%, with 59% of respondents expressing disapproval of his performance.
  • The NBC survey showed that Republicans hold a whopping 21-point advantage over Democrats on the economy (49%-28%), the largest lead Republicans have held in 32 years.
  • The poll also shows that Democrats only hold a 2-point edge (36%-34%) on looking out for the middle class, an area in which the party typically holds a significant advantage.

Between the lines: Look beyond the headlines and it's easy to see why so many middle- and working-class Americans are feeling economic pain.

  • Bloomberg reported this week that Americans outside the wealthiest 20% of the country "have run out of extra savings and now have less cash on hand than they did when the pandemic began," according to a Federal Reserve study on household finances.
  • Consumers buying new houses or cars are starting to feel the sting of higher interest rates, especially now that some of the savings stored up during the pandemic have been spent.
  • Gas prices, often the most noticeable economic pain point for consumers, are going up again. The average price of regular unleaded gas is now $3.82 — close to a yearlong high.

What they're saying: "Next year's election is going to be a choice. We're talking about a vision of Bidenomics and his accomplishments, versus the other side who are all united in the same kind of right-wing MAGAnomics agenda like the Trump tax cuts geared to the wealthiest corporations," a Biden campaign adviser told Axios.

  • Biden advisers also are skeptical of the quality of public polling and point to a pattern of Democrats performing well in lower-turnout, localized special elections this year as a reason not to be overly concerned.
  • "The economy is in substantially better shape than it was in 2011. Biden's policies are going to continue to make people feel that, and the campaign is doing everything right to make sure voters know that. It's exactly what we did with Obama," former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told Axios.

Reality check: Democrats still hold a narrow 1-point edge on the congressional generic ballot in the NBC poll — a reminder that the economy isn't the only issue driving voter concerns.

  • Despite the sizable GOP advantage on the economy, deep antipathy toward former President Trump and broad opposition to GOP-backed abortion restrictions are still damaging to Republicans' prospects.

The bottom line: It's never easy for any incumbent to make the case for re-election when public opinion is so fickle, but it's especially risky to claim victory when the economic battle is still raging.

  • The Biden campaign's decision to confidently tout its successes over more cautiously acknowledging a long road to recovery is now looking like a tactical error.
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