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10.06.2022 0

Inflation, recession still weigh heavily on independents’ minds ahead of Congressional elections

By Robert Romano

Consumer price inflation and the sagging U.S. economy are weighing heavily on the minds of voters ahead of the U.S. Congressional midterm elections, the latest results of the Economist/YouGov poll show, with 24 percent rating inflation as the top issue and another 11 percent saying jobs and the economy.

For independents — a critical factor in midterm elections as these are where swings occur among large groups of voters — there is a similar breakdown, where 23 percent say inflation and 11 percent say the economy are the top issues.

Interestingly, even 17 percent of Democrats say inflation is the top issue and 9 percent say jobs and the economy, pointing towards potential weakness among the incumbent party — usually a recipe for disaster in midterms.

59 percent of voters say the economy is in a recession, including 58 percent of independents. Only 19 percent say there is no recession.

41 percent define the best indicator of a recession as the prices of the goods and services you buy, including 39 percent of independents.

This is very insightful by the American people, since via inflation, they are the first to feel the effects of a downturn as they curtail spending in an effort to avert getting crushed by household debt, which skyrockets along with prices as credit cards becomes an object of first resort for many families.

66 percent of voters expect inflation to remain high (22 percent) or go even higher (44 percent), including 44 percent of independents who say higher. 55 percent of voters expect interest rates to go higher, too. They expect it to get worse.

In marginal states like Wisconsin, Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona and Ohio — all critical in presidential years — independents form whatever majorities occur in elections, according to a 2017 Gallup survey calling the states politically competitive.

A 2014 survey by Pew Research shows similar results, with independents making up sizeable swaths of the electorate in swing states, and might be more reflective of a political midterm cycle favorable to Republicans simply due to being the opposition party that just lost the White House. They’re more fired up, and independents are more likely to embrace opposition, particularly if things are not going well for the country. Incumbents tend to get blamed.

In 2014 the GOP won 247 seats in the House, the party’s high water mark in recent history, building on gains made in prior cycles including 1994 and 2010. Considering Democrats’ slim majority, Republicans need only pick up 6 seats to reclaim the House, having far less ground to make up than they did in 2010.

Today, Republicans have 212 seats. In 2010, when they picked up 63 seats, they only had 179 seats, coming off their dismal 2008 showing with John McCain at the top of the ticket and the economy tanking with a Republican president, as independents banked overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, who won Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

Voters consider the “incumbents” to be whoever is in the White House, not necessarily those who control Congress, although when there is one-party rule as today, it likely weighs very heavily on the minds of independents, who view uninterrupted party control in Washington, D.C. to be usually bad for the country and potentially dangerous to their interests. Ultimately, they prefer mixed government where neither party has absolute power.

So, just as George W. Bush and the GOP suffered with the 2008 recession, Donald Trump and the GOP in 2020 with the Covid recession, George H.W. Bush with the 1991 recession and Jimmy Carter with the 1980 recession, the incumbent party can lose in pretty big ways at the top of the ticket, although 2020 and 1992 stand out as slight exceptions insofar as the losing party in the presidential race actually picked up a number of seats in the House in those years.

Put another way, in a typical midterm cycle, these circumstances would favor the opposition party. Add a recession to the mix, and inflation remaining stubbornly high, plus more turmoil from Europe spilling over into the U.S. financial system, and food and energy shortages that many voters blame on environmentalist policies, and these are toxic circumstances for the incumbent party. If Republicans cannot win over independents in the elections with conditions this favorable, they need new leadership.

Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.

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