A majority of Americans say they don't blame President Joe Biden for high gasoline prices, but they're giving his economic leadership low marks amid fears of inflation and deep pessimism about economic conditions.
About 7 in 10 Americans say the nation’s economy is in bad shape, and close to two-thirds disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In addition, Americans are more likely to say his policies have hurt the economy than helped it.
Yet less than half say the jump in gas prices is Biden’s fault, a reflection of how the country is processing Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine and the resulting increase in oil costs.
The poll hints at a paradox in which the public views Biden as being in power without necessarily being in control. His hopes for a lasting economic renaissance have faded as Americans cope with higher food and energy costs. And the promise of a country no longer under the pandemic's sway has been supplanted by the uncertainty of war in Europe.
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“It's going to get worse before it gets better,” said Adam Newago, 53, a truck driver from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He sees inflation as spiraling outward with higher fuel prices increasing the costs of shipping and ultimately raising prices across the broader economy.
Newago said he reluctantly voted for President Donald Trump in 2020, while his wife cast her ballot for Biden. He feels that inflation at a 40-year high and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan have led to a "mess."
Overall, 65% of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of the nation’s economy, including 96% of Republicans and 36% of Democrats. The overall share saying they disapprove is up from 57% in December of 2021 and from 47% last July.
Gas prices stand above other types of inflation when it comes to the worries ordinary Americans have about price increases impacting their bottom lines. A hefty 68% said they're very concerned about gas prices, while 59% expressed the same degree of worry about rising grocery prices.
Gas prices were high before Putin began amassing forces at the Ukrainian border, but they've risen since the start of the war without producing a slew of additional oil to come onto the market.
Tammy Baca, 52, who works in education in Fort Worth, Texas, said that prices at the pump are a function of geopolitics.
“You’re going to have to suffer, you know?" said Baca, a Democrat. "It’s almost like we’re pitching in for wartime effort, without even being at war.”
Many Americans agree, with 55% saying it's a bigger priority for the U.S. to effectively sanction Russia than to limit damage to the U.S. economy.
Shelter is the dominant expenditure in the government's measure of inflation, but less than half of Americans — 40% — say they’re very concerned about higher than usual housing costs impacting their household finances. Another 24% are somewhat concerned.
Fifty-three percent of Americans also say they’re very concerned about higher prices for other goods and services.
Overall, Americans are more likely to say that higher than usual gas prices are more because of factors outside of Biden’s control than because of Biden’s policies, 55% to 44%.
Still, more think Biden’s policies are hurting the economy than helping it, 48% to 24%. Another 28% say they haven't made much difference. The rejection comes after Biden steered a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package and $1 trillion infrastructure package through Congress, though his agenda on economic equity and clean energy stalled in Congress last December.
For Jennifer Smith, the relief package was a financial lifeline. The 50-year-old lives off disability and lives with her daughter in Zanesville, Ohio. Smith voted for Trump in 2020, but she disliked the Jan. 6, 2020, assault on the U.S. Capitol. She not only received a direct payment from the government but $250 monthly in the expanded child tax credit — both of which have disappeared while the inflation has stayed.
“I know this sounds crazy, but I’m thrilled to be able to pay bills,” Smith said. “With the way it is right now, I can’t without borrowing, robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Eighty-eight percent of Democrats say high gas prices are outside Biden's control, while 79% of Republicans specifically blame his policies, which many said in follow-up interviews limited U.S. energy production. Most Republicans say Biden’s policies are hurting the economy, but among Democrats, 45% say they’re helping and 39% say they’re not making much difference.
The poll suggests support among Democrats for Biden's economic leadership is decidedly lukewarm, especially among those under 45. That's a meaningful difference from the loyalty that the GOP expressed for Trump — who in March 2018 enjoyed an 84% approval on the economy from his fellow Republicans.
In yet another sign of how partisanship is shaping views of the economy and inflation, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they’re very concerned about the impact on their households from higher prices for gas, groceries, housing, and other goods and services.
Overall, 69% of Americans say that the nation’s economy is in poor shape, compared with 31% who say it’s good. The share saying the economy is poor has ticked up slightly from 64% in December. Still, 63% call their personal financial situation good, a number that has stayed remarkably steady since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
As for Biden, his supporters say he's been held back by Congress and the challenges created by the disruptions and crises that are part of the U.S. presidency.
Mary Payne, 75, a nurse in California, said she wouldn't say Biden's performance has been “excellent,” though it's been “good” and “probably fair.” She said she opposed Trump in 2020 and views the Republicans right now as obstructive.
“I don’t know how many roadblocks are put up for him doing what he wants to do,” Payne said. “I think the heart is there. I think that he cares.”
Associated Press polling reporter Hannah Fingerhut contributed.
The AP-NORC poll of 1,082 adults was conducted March 17-21 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points.