Record-high inflation, an out-of-control housing market and the multitrillion dollar federal deficit all figure into Utahns’ top picks for issues they want to see Congress address on a priority basis.
That, according to results of a new statewide Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll of 804 registered Utah voters conducted April 5-12 by Dan Jones & Associates.
General economic conditions earned its spot as the top issue for Congress to tackle for 24% of poll participants, with inflation garnering 19% and housing prices 9%. Addressing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the federal budget deficit and skyrocketing fuel/oil prices tied for 8% of the top picks for respondents, with wages and taxes each earning 3%.
The polling data comes with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.
Even before Russia’s war further spurred price increases, robust consumer spending, steady pay raises and chronic supply shortages had sent U.S. consumer inflation to its highest level in four decades. In addition, housing costs, which make up about a third of the consumer price index, have escalated, a trend that seems unlikely to reverse anytime soon.
A report released last week from the U.S. Department of Labor found inflation hit a 12-month rate of 8.5% in March.
While the 8.5% inflation rate is the U.S. overall average, Utah and other Mountain West states that include Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming saw annual inflation increase at a nation-leading 10.4%.
The 12-month jump is the largest increase since December 1981, according to the report. Prices have been driven up by bottlenecked supply chains, robust consumer demand and disruptions to global food and energy markets worsened by Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Basic necessities continue to be among the main drivers of cost increases for U.S. consumers, and the March report notes indexes for gasoline, shelter and food were the largest contributors to the seasonally adjusted all-items increase. The gasoline price index rose 18.3% in March and accounted for over half of the all-items monthly increase. Gas prices are up 48% over the same time last year.
BYU political science professor Chris Karpowitz reviewed the poll results and noted they reflect a profound level of concern for Utahns on a range of issues that all track back to the performance of the economy.
“To me, the thing that leaps off the page is how concerned Utahns are about the overall economy,” Karpowitz said. “The economy in general, inflation, deficit issues, wages, gas prices ... those could be clustered together and identified as their number one issue.”
Karpowitz said it made sense that the higher prices Utahns are paying across the board for goods and services puts those issues on the front burner, but he also questioned what role Congress can actually play in addressing Utahns’ top concerns.
“They want federal legislators to address these issues though it’s unclear what Congress can really do about these things,” Karpowitz said. “There really are limits. The Federal Reserve has the most effective tool for addressing inflation ... but what Congress can do is to be fiscally wise.”
Karpowitz said the new Deseret News polling further highlights the political challenges that ongoing inflation increases are likely to have in the upcoming midterm election cycle.
“It’s another warning sign for Democrats who control the Congress and the White House that inflation is at the top of people’s minds,” Karpowitz said.
Orem resident and poll participant Taylor Fox said he also believes persistent inflation increases will impact the upcoming elections.
“The weight of what’s happening right now falls on those we are in charge,” Fox said. “That’s waking a lot of people up to the knowledge that their vote really does count.”
Fox, who is 29, married and a father of two, is also concerned that rising costs, particularly in Utah’s red-hot housing market, is greatly reducing access for first-time homebuyers.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people, millennials who have good incomes and are financially sound but who are facing housing prices that are far outpacing their ability to buy something they can afford,” Fox said. “We have this up-and-coming generation that believes in the American dream and wants a slice ... but it’s becoming out of reach.”
Since last summer, Utahns have registered increasing concerns over the wide-ranging price hikes on goods and services, sentiment traced by monthly polling conducted by the Deseret News in partnership with the Hinckley Institute of Politics.
In a statewide poll of Utah voters conducted by Dan Jones & Associates in March, an overwhelming majority of respondents, 93%, said they were very or somewhat concerned about inflation, a number that matched what pollsters heard from Utahns in a February survey.
The same March survey also asked Utahns who they thought bore responsibility for the rise in inflation. While respondents were nearly united in expressing their concerns over wide-ranging price increases, they gave more varied answers to the question about who is to blame.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, partisanship played a role in the March survey. A plurality of respondents, 33%, pointed the finger at the Democratic Party when asked “who or what is to blame for inflation.”
Republicans fared much better, earning only 6% in the blame game, while the Federal Reserve was seen as slightly more liable at 8%. In the poll, 17% of participants pointed to the prices and policies of corporate America as the source of inflation and 23% believed higher costs can be traced to the economic fallout from COVID-19.