Only 35 percent of Americans trusted Democrats more on economic issues, according to weeks of private polling presented to the White House in mid-September and recently obtained by POLITICO. The data reinforced general concerns about the public’s gloomy outlook. Despite expressing broad support for Biden’s policy agenda, few voters knew he had made much progress on any of a dozen major priorities, like drug prices or infrastructure.
Perhaps most alarming, 7 in 10 respondents believed the economy was not improving, even after being explicitly told that inflation had fallen and unemployment was near record highs. record. This preface, designed specifically to persuade voters to clarify their vision of the economy, did not seem to move them.
“When we intentionally put our finger on the scale and 100 percent of people hear good economic indicators before saying whether the economy is doing well for them, we still find ourselves getting hit,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. The group, alongside Data for Progress, conducted the poll and briefed White House officials, Democratic congressional leaders and top party officials over several days in September and October.
The meetings – the scale of which has not been previously reported – included meetings with members of Biden’s inner circle, as well as top aides charged with shaping Biden’s policy and policy strategy ahead of 2024. They offer a window into a White House well aware that its economic message has failed to resonate, even as it has repeatedly dismissed those fears as overblown.
Democrats have been worried about Biden’s poor economic ratings for months, with some going so far as to directly urging the White House to abandon the image of “Bidenomics,” which the administration has used as shorthand for the president’s economic agenda.
Biden’s advisers remain convinced that their strategy will pay off in the long term. But discussions of private polling provide clues about how the administration might refine its argument in the coming months. During the sessions, Biden officials reviewed data that tested a series of new messages intended to narrow the polling deficit — from more directly targeting Republicans on Donald Trump-era tax cuts to trying to relaunch the fight for social security.
“Democrats can’t just hammer people by insisting that the economy is great,” said Green, whose work with the White House on an unwanted fee initiative over the summer sparked broader discussions about Bidenomics messaging. “We need to recognize the pain and the pivot, and there are ways to leverage that pivot to hit Trump for his mismanagement of the economy.”
The White House called the poll further confirmation that Biden’s economic agenda is popular with voters and that the main challenge is convincing them to give him credit.
“What we need to do is raise awareness that it was the president who brought these things into their lives,” said a senior official, who requested anonymity to discuss the meetings. “We are aware, and have been aware, that there is a gap.”
Biden aides insisted they would soon begin to close that gap by drawing a sharper contrast between Biden and Republicans. They specifically highlight a memo mid-September which included plans to pit Bidenomics against GOP policies they dubbed “MAGAnomics.”
But there is no sign that Americans’ economic prospects are improving, frustrating aides, even as they argue there is still plenty of time to reverse course.
“We are working every day to show the American people what President Biden and Democrats in Congress have accomplished,” White House spokesman Michael Kikukawa said in a statement, listing progress on pricing. medicines, manufacturing jobs and infrastructure. “We will continue to reach out to the portion of Americans who are not yet aware of these incredibly popular accomplishments.”
The difficulty of this task has surprised even Biden’s staunchest supporters, who admit he started in a deeper hole than expected. Voters blame the administration for soaring basic expenses like groceries, gasoline and housing, and remain obsessed with the cost of living even as inflation has moderated. They give Biden little credit for leading the United States out of a Covid-induced recession, or for orchestrating record job growth without plunging the country back into recession.
“We just had huge GDP numbers, wages are rising in real terms, we have a booming job market and the manufacturing sector is rebounding,” said Jim Kessler, executive vice president for politics from the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way. . But when it comes to making voters appreciate that progress, Biden “has work to do.” There’s no doubt about it.”
Democrats’ anxiety over Bidenomics has peaked in recent weeks, amid new polls showing Biden underwater on economic issues and trailing former President Trump in key states. Biden aides quickly dismissed the results, arguing that polls taken a year after the election were unreliable.
But the findings reflect entrenched challenges that the White House has been aware of for weeks. The PCCC and Data for Progress poll showed voters overwhelmingly supported central elements of Biden’s agenda — like lowering drug prices, protecting Social Security and eliminating so-called unnecessary fees — only to then say that they had not yet heard much from the president on the subject. .
For example, less than a third of voters said they had heard much from Biden about capping the cost of insulin, a widely popular provision that took effect in January. Only 20 percent had “heard a lot” about the work being done to fend off threats to Social Security and Medicare, and even fewer were aware of the administration’s work on veterans benefits and child care. ‘children.
A key obstacle, progressive groups say, is that the White House has struggled to distinguish its position on several major issues from that of Republicans. Biden’s insulin cap has drawn relatively little resistance from the Republican Party since it took effect, depriving him of the kind of sustained partisan back-and-forth that could elevate the issue in voters’ minds.
On Social Security, the president earlier this year prompted Republicans to vow to roll back cuts to the program, avoiding what Democrats hoped would be a high-volume battle. This represented a major victory for the moment. But the longer-term impact, according to PCCC and Data for Progress polls, is that voters remain divided on whether Biden or Trump would be more likely to protect their benefits. Trump publicly urged Republicans to leave social insurance programs aside when fighting the debt ceiling earlier this year. The poll finds that many respondents do not believe Republicans would now cut Social Security.
“Biden was almost a victim of his own success,” said Danielle Deiseroth, executive director of Data for Progress. “Yes, we should educate voters about (Biden’s policies). …But it’s also about attacking and fighting.
In meetings with White House aides and congressional leaders, Green and Deiseroth detailed the steep climb Biden faces in convincing voters that economic conditions are improving. Voters responded much better when discussions of Biden’s record were coupled with acknowledgment that the economy remained difficult and reminders of Trump’s record. But even that approach failed to make most voters positive about the economy.
The two men instead urged the administration to refine its Bidenomics message, focusing on a handful of popular policies and finding points of tension where Biden can incite Republicans to fight. At one point, they proposed that Biden propose an expansion of Social Security financed by higher taxes on billionaires, arguing that the move would be broadly popular and force the Republican Party to engage in debate on both elements.
The senior White House official declined to say how and whether the discussions would influence Biden’s campaign strategy.
But regardless of how the White House refines its economic argument, Green and Deiseroth said Biden’s ability to convince voters will depend heavily on better defining what exactly bidenomics is — and, just as importantly, , of what it is not.
“It’s about de-wonkifying the message,” Deiseroth said. “When we recognize the pain people are feeling and remind them that Republicans are not going to be the saviors on this issue, that’s when we start to gain traction.” This is where it starts to get a lot less scary.