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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

As Exploration of the Disconnect Between Economic Realities and Public Perception

Will Historic Job Growth Bring an End to the “Vibecession”?, John Cassidy asks at The New Yorker, and writes:

During the past year, the economy has added 2.9 million jobs, and since Biden came to office it has added 15.2 million jobs. All told, there are now about 5.8 million more Americans at work than there were immediately before the covid-19 pandemic started. And for those who are still concerned about the inflation rate, which has fallen from a high of 9.1 per cent in June, 2022, to 3.2 per cent, the new jobs report contained some reassuring news on that front, too. In the twelve months before the report was issued, hourly wages rose by 4.1 per cent–—the lowest figure since June, 2021, and another indication that inflation is contained. Strong economic growth combined with low unemployment and low inflation is pretty much an ideal outcome for any policymaker.

There are at least three explanations for why Biden’s ratings haven’t benefitted from these developments: the consumer-prices theory, the lags theory, and the vibes theory. The prices theory emphasizes that price levels—and the over-all cost of living—remain high, despite much lower rates of inflation. The lags theory says that people’s perceptions about politicians and economic policymaking can take quite a while to catch up with a changing environment. The vibes theory says that, for whatever reason, many Americans’ subjective feelings about the economy have lost touch with reality. To use the term coined by the economic commentator Kyla Scanlon, many of them are still stuck in a “Vibecession.”

Evidence can be cited to support each of these theories. Although the price of food hasn’t climbed much in the past year, many groceries and other items, such as secondhand vehicles, are still a lot more expensive than they were when Biden was elected, in 2020. Wages have increased faster than prices in the past year, but they haven’t risen by enough to offset previous price hikes. That supports the prices theory. Supporting the lags theory are recent indications that broad economic sentiment has improved, even though this hasn’t yet made itself visible in political polls. Last month, the University of Michigan’s index of consumer sentiment was 28.1 per cent higher than it was a year ago. The same organization’s index of consumer expectations, which reflects survey respondents’ feelings about the future, has gone up even more. It seems reasonable to expect that improving consumer sentiment should eventually have an impact on people’s assessments of economic policymaking, including the President’s stewardship.

Cassidy has more to say about the disconnect between economic statistics and public perceptions, and you can read the rest of his article right here.

One comment on “As Exploration of the Disconnect Between Economic Realities and Public Perception

  1. Martin Lawford on

    It’s the prices especially in staple items. You hear it in the things people say. Few people say, “Gee, look at the low unemployment” or “It’s a good thing inflation is down to 3.5%” or “I’m glad GDP is going up.” No, they say things like “Damn, food has gotten expensive” and “Look what they’re charging now just for hamburger.”


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