Jan 11, 2024 - Politics & Policy
Axios Vibes

Axios Vibes: America's unhappiest people

Illustration of stars, dollar signs, the words "for rent," and angry emojis on a background resembling the U.S. flag

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Republicans, rural residents, renters, women and singles disproportionately feel like they're in a big fat funk financially, our debut Axios Vibes survey by The Harris Poll reveals.

Why it matters: It's not what voters see β€” the economy's improving with rising wages and low unemployment. It's how they feel that could tank President Biden in November.

Zoom in: Inflation has dipped in recent months but remains top of mind for many Americans. Six in 10 surveyed say they're now "triggered" by trips to the grocery store.

  • Republicans are more likely than overall respondents to say they're "angry" about high prices. Renters are disproportionately likely to say they're "anxious."

Grocery purchases are the top way (72%) Americans say they feel inflation in their daily lives. That's followed by gas prices (56%).

  • Two-thirds think food will keep getting more expensive. More than half worry that falling gas prices will reverse.

The intrigue: Harris' research also suggests that many Americans are "consuming in denial" β€” continuing to spend and run up credit card bills even though they're short on cash β€” and that "they're looking to deflect some of the blame" to leaders in government, said John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll.

  • "There's a sense of entitlement, that Americans feel like, 'We're worth it, so I might change my vote but I'm not going to change my lifestyle,'" Gerzema said.

How it works: Our Vibes surveys, conducted throughout the 2024 campaign, will tap into personal experiences and psychological responses to capture the nation's feelings through a "Vibe Check," which may differ from the metrics on which many economic experts or political leaders are focused.

  • The fun part: In each Vibes story we'll summarize the Vibe Check with a title and an emoji.

Axios Vibe Check: Red, rural and renting 😑

  • That vibe reflects the numbers we crunched on the overall economy: Life, particularly groceries and rent, is indeed a lot more expensive than it was a few years ago.
  • But overall, a near-record share of Americans are working β€” and they're confident enough in their prospects that consumer spending keeps on rising.
Data: FRED, Census Bureau; Charts: Erin Davis/Axios
Data: FRED, Census Bureau; Charts: Erin Davis/Axios

By the numbers: 37% of Americans rate their financial situation as poor. That climbs to 42% for Republicans, 43% for women, 46% for rural residents, 47% for singles and 57% for renters.

  • In comparison, just 32% of respondents in relationships and 28% of Democrats say their situation is poor.
  • 25% of Americans say they're falling behind financially, compared with 30% of women and Republicans, 33% of rural residents and 36% of renters.
  • 41% of Americans say their finances are worse today than they'd have predicted if they'd been asked, pre-COVID, to imagine the future. That surged to 51% for renters, 53% for rural residents and 55% for Republicans.

Be smart: Democrats surveyed are more positive about the economy than Republicans. But there are still significant numbers of unhappy Democrats. Just 52% say the U.S. economy is strong, and 53% say it feels like there are high unemployment rates in the U.S.

  • Hispanic Americans, whose historical support for Democrats has been eroding, show mixed vibes. Two-thirds say the American Dream doesn't matter to them anymore, compared with 54% of all respondents. But 42% of Hispanic respondents say they feel they're getting ahead financially, compared with just 35% overall.
  • Just 28% of singles and 27% of women say they feel they're getting ahead financially, compared with 39% of couples and 44% of men.

The big picture: Two answers in our survey get to the heart of the gap between what elite institutions are saying and how most Americans say they're experiencing the economy.

  • 88% of respondents agree with this statement: "Gas, groceries and housing costs β€” not stocks β€” are the real economic indicators I care about."
  • 76% of respondents β€” and 82% of Republican and Hispanic respondents β€”agree with this statement: "Economists may say things are getting better, but we're not feeling it where I live."

Between the lines: The poll finds that many Americans, especially Republicans and rural residents, are more likely to see the national economy as weak β€” though not necessarily weak in their own community or region.

  • That seems counterintuitive but could reflect general mistrust of institutions or national leaders, another finding in the poll.
  • 74% of respondents said government leaders don't care what happens to them or their families. That rises to 78% for women, 79% for renters, 84% for Republicans and 85% for rural residents. It's 70% for men and 63% for Democrats.

What we're watching: Despite widespread concern over the economy and the promise of a turbulent election year, many Americans did express optimism about 2024.

  • Two-thirds say they feel 2024 will be better than 2023.

Methodology: The findings in this Axios Vibes survey by The Harris Poll are based on a nationally representative sample of 2,120 U.S. adults conducted online, Dec. 15-17, 2023.

  • The sampling precision of Harris online polls is measured by using a Bayesian credible interval. For this study, the data for this population is accurate to within +/- 2.8 percentage points using a 95% confidence level.
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