Working class voters want politicians who will focus on the economy
A new Deseret News-HarrisX poll found U.S. voters name price increases and inflation as the most important issues facing the U.S.
The most important issue facing the U.S. today is still inflation, according to a new national poll, and this sentiment is being driven by Americans who identify as working and middle class.
These voters feel strongly that the country is on the wrong track, with 61% of those who identify as middle class and 64% who identify as working class claiming that sentiment, according to a national poll conducted by HarrisX for the Deseret News. The reverse is true for the upper class, with 70% of those who identify in this class saying the country is on the right track.
A plurality or majority of those in the middle class or below also say their financial situations are getting worse, not better.
It isn’t surprising then that these same Americans say the most important issues facing the country today are largely economic in nature, with price increases and inflation topping the list.
The poll found 26% of respondents saying price increases and inflation is the most important issue facing the U.S. In second at 21% is the economy and jobs, tied with guns and school safety. That’s followed by 18% who said crime and drugs, 17% who said immigration, 13% who said health care and 12% who said the environment and climate change.
The poll was conducted in mid-April among 1,981 registered voters, and has a margin of error of +/- 2.2 percentage points.
“I think most people in America are trying to pay their bills, take care of their families, live their lives and have decent jobs and so it doesn’t surprise me at all that prices, the economy, and jobs are the most important issues,” said Amy Hanauer, executive director at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
How respondents feel about inflation depends on their self-identified class. Inflation was the top issue for those who identify as the middle class, working class, lower-middle and lower class. But that was not true for voters who identify as upper class, showing how inflation has hit households differently.
Ruy Teixeira, a political scientist and senior fellow at American Enterprise Institute, who writes for The Liberal Patriot, says Democrats have lost middle and working class voters in part because of their focus on cultural issues over economic issues, and because they have ignored the plight of the working class.
“I think that it’s a failure (of Democrats) to take into account the extent to which people are pessimistic, and that pessimism does relate to real stuff, it’s not like they’re just being manipulated by Fox News. The economy really hasn’t been that great for working class people. Inflation is a killer, it’s a killer,” he said. “And that’s how people live their lives, they live their lives in terms of how much they’re spending at the grocery store and how secure they feel economically.”
Although the rate of inflation has slowed, a May Federal Reserve report found nearly a quarter of U.S. adults say their spending has increased while their income has not. The report found that although a 63% majority of adults could cover a $400 emergency expense in cash, that’s down from a 68% high in 2021 as some households’ savings accounts built during the pandemic have started to shrink.
While there is broad agreement that the working class is struggling to keep up, there are different theories about what should be addressed first to help them.
“Working-class people confront more challenges just taking care of the basics and we haven’t done as much as we could with public policy to make sure all jobs are good jobs and that all of the basic expenses that families pay are affordable,” Hanauer said. “For people who don’t live paycheck to paycheck or don’t struggle to afford all the things they want and need, that’s going to be less of a concern.”
Hanauer said the low 8% of respondents who said taxes are the most important issue facing the U.S. in the Deseret News/HarrisX poll shows that policymakers have room to raise them for the wealthy and corporations.
“Taxes were so low on people’s list of something that worries them and I think that really illustrates that there’s a lot of room for policymakers to move forward on doing more to tax wealthy people and corporations,” she said.
Karlyn Bowman, a distinguished senior fellow at AEI, pointed to the need for politicians to address inflation. She noted that the survey showed a majority of people in the working class say they feel very or somewhat secure in their jobs, but they’re troubled by the cost of living.
“Sixty percent of the working class didn’t feel financially secure. So even though they have good jobs, it’s just the punishing inflation that you see coming through on so many of these questions,” she said.
James Carville, a strategist for former President Bill Clinton, popularized the phrase “it’s the economy, stupid” to remind Clinton’s 1992 campaign to focus on economic issues, and more than three decades later, the phrase still speaks to what voters care about. The low salience of many cultural issues in the Deseret News/HarrisX poll suggests the culture wars may be given outsized attention by politicians and the news media while voters are more interested in finding solutions to economic concerns.
Even as his approval ratings sag, President Joe Biden has tried to tout his record on the economy, especially as it relates to jobs. Last week he spoke about his record of creating more jobs in 28 months than any president in a full four-year term and said his economic plan is working — although, as some have noted, the job creation he takes credit for came after historic job losses because of the pandemic.
“Due to the historic action taken by Congress this week, my economic plan will continue to deliver good jobs for the American people in communities throughout the country,” Biden said.
While the country enjoys a low unemployment rate, voters’ concerns about rising prices show Biden’s being judged by more than just job creation when it comes to his handling of the economy. Former President Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate in national polls, has criticized Biden’s record on the economy, accusing him of blowing it “to shreds.”
Suzanne Bates contributed to this article.