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Joe Biden, Approval Rating Low, Faces Economic Storm Before Midterms

Newsweek logo Newsweek 5/6/2022 Darragh Roche
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to employees at Lockheed Martin, a facility which manufactures weapon systems such as Javelin anti-tank missiles, on May 3, 2022 in Troy, Alabama. Voters' views on the economy may be crucial in the upcoming midterm elections. © Julie Bennett/Getty Images U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to employees at Lockheed Martin, a facility which manufactures weapon systems such as Javelin anti-tank missiles, on May 3, 2022 in Troy, Alabama. Voters' views on the economy may be crucial in the upcoming midterm elections.

President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party may be facing an economic storm ahead of the crucial 2022 midterm elections, where Republicans are aiming to take control of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

If Republicans can retake either the House or the Senate, or both, they will effectively be able to stymie President Biden's agenda for the two years leading up to the 2024 presidential election. Voters' views on the economy may be a decisive factor in the midterms.

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U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) declined by an annualized rate of 1.4 percent in the first quarter of 2022 - the first time GDP has fallen since the beginning of the pandemic and an apparent reversal from the recent economic recovery.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve announced a half percentage point rise in interest rates as the central bank attempts to tackle stubbornly high inflation.

The Fed's move was expected, as the annual rate of inflation was 8.5 percent in March, the greatest rise since 1981, after months of persistent increases in the price of everyday consumer goods.

However, unemployment has remained low at 3.6 percent and the monthly jobs report on Friday showed the economy added 428,000 jobs in April.

Deutsche Bank warned last month that the U.S. may be heading for a recession amid the tight jobs market and the Fed's attempts to bring down inflation, but Goldman Sachs and UBS both told CNN that a recession wasn't inevitable. Nonetheless, concerns about a possible downturn could affect voters' choices.

Biden's Approval Rating

The decline in GDP and high inflation come as President Biden's approval rating remains in negative territory.

Poll tracker FiveThirtyEight, which tracks the president's approval rating based on a variety of polls and its own system of pollster ratings, found that disapproval of Biden stood at 52.5 percent as Thursday, while just 42.2 percent of Americans approved of the job he's doing.

A CNN Poll conducted by SSRS and published on Wednesday found that Americans give Biden poor grades when it comes to the economy, and that the situation appears to be worsening for the president.

The poll found that 66 percent of respondents disapprove of Biden's handling of the economy and 34 percent approve. In CNN's poll conducted in January and February, 62 percent disapproved of his handling of the economy, and 37 percent approved.

Economic Conditions

The CNN/SSRS poll also found that just 23 percent of respondents rated economic conditions as good, while 77 percent said conditions were poor. When respondents were asked if Biden's policies had improved the economy, just 19 percent said they had.

A further 55 percent said Biden's policies had worsened economic conditions and 26 percent said his policies had had no effect.

The poll was conducted from April 28 to May 1 among 1,007 U.S. adults and has a margin of error of +/-3.9 percent.

A Gallup poll in March asked Americans what they consider to be the most important problem facing the country. High cost of living/inflation came in second with 17 percent, behind the government/poor leadership on 22 percent. The economy in general was in third place at 11 percent.

Those rating high cost of living/inflation as the nation's most important problem stood at just 10 percent in February and 8 percent in January.

The Midterms

FiveThirtyEight's generic congressional ballot shows Republicans leading Democrats with 45.4 percent to 42.8 percent as of Thursday, in what is expected to be difficult election for the president's party.

With Americans taking a dim view of the economy, the issue could prove crucial.

Thomas Gift, founding director of University College London's Centre on U.S. Politics, told Newsweek that Democrats may shoulder the blame if voters feel the economy is poor.

"It's become a political platitude at this point, but the adage 'it's the economy, stupid' is all you need to know to explain how the Democrats will get thrashed in the upcoming midterms," Gift said.

"With inflation at its highest levels in 40 years, GDP contracting in the first quarter, and Wall Street all of a sudden looking wobbly, no amount of improved PR messaging is likely to save Biden's party from a 'red wave' in November," he said.

Gift said that inflation "is shaping up to be the number one issue on voters' minds."

"Biden can deflect all he wants about how the sky high prices of gas, groceries, and other household expenditures are caused by the pandemic, supply chain issues, or Putin's war in Ukraine," he said.

"That doesn't change the bottom line: Democrats are in power, and ultimately voters will hold them culpable if they think the economy is trending in the wrong direction. And right now, there's no doubt that's the way they feel," Gift said.

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