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This week in Bidenomics: 4 more years … of inflation?

The inflation shock of 2022 freaked out consumers and trashed President Biden’s approval rating.

Inflation is now receding, but Biden has another problem: Some voters think they’d be voting for even more inflation if they decide to give Biden a second term.

New research on swing-state voters by the Cook Political Report found, unsurprisingly, that rising living costs rank as a top 2024 concern.

And many of these voters also seem to think there’s something about Biden that delivers high prices, while there’s something about his likely Republican opponent, Donald Trump, that delivers low prices.

For some voters, then, a vote for Biden is the equivalent of voting for four more years of higher-than-necessary living costs.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 14: U.S. President Joe Biden announces increased tariffs on Chinese products to promote American investments and jobs in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 14, 2024 in Washington, DC. In order to protect American businesses, Biden announced the raising of tariffs on Chinese imports that he says are unfairly subsidized by Beijing, including electric vehicles, solar cells, semiconductors and advanced batteries. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden announces increased tariffs on Chinese products to promote American investments and jobs in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 14, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images) (Win McNamee via Getty Images)

Cook teamed up with two polling firms, one Democratic and one Republican, to survey nearly 4,000 voters in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Those are the swing states very likely to decide who wins in 2024, much as they did in 2020 when Biden won six of them, clinching the electoral vote.

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The survey focused on economic matters. Researchers asked which of five issues was the best measure of how well the economy is doing. The cost of living was the runaway winner, with 54%. Only 13% cited the unemployment rate, 9% cited household income, 8% said interest rates, and 6% cited the stock market. The rest were unsure or said something else.

That goes a long way toward explaining the so-called vibecession and other parallel reads on the economy that show people remain bummed out even while economic output is solid, job growth is strong, and stocks keep rising.

When asked what they think the strongest part of the economy is, voters were split. Another challenge for Biden in trying to zero in on a singular winning economic message.

Cook found unemployment, stocks, the cost of living, and "not sure" responses nearly split the vote equally, though "not sure" and low unemployment held a slight lead.

The Cook pollsters also asked how much control people think Biden has over inflation. Fifty-nine percent said he has some control or a lot of control. Forty-one percent said little or no control.

The implication is that a lot of voters think Biden is somehow choosing to keep inflation high, even if it dooms his reelection bid.

That carries into their outlook for the next presidential term.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents said inflation will continue to be an issue if Biden wins in November. Only 44% think inflation will continue to be a problem if Trump wins. No surprise, then, that the Cook survey has Trump ahead in six of the seven swing states, with Biden leading only Wisconsin.

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There are other signs economic trends are making Biden’s reelection bid tougher.

Moody’s Analytics maintains an election forecast based largely on economic factors, and in a May 20 update, North Carolina and Nevada flipped from Biden’s column to Trump’s. That came from higher-than-expected inflation at the start of 2024, which lowered the odds of Federal Reserve interest rate cuts this year.

Moody’s still has Biden winning, with economic factors helping him take Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, garnering 286 electoral votes. But that’s down from a forecast of 308 electoral votes for Biden earlier this year. Biden won in 2020 with 306 electoral votes.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

If every American voter were an economist, the electorate would be much less worried about inflation, whether for the rest of 2024 or the next four years.

Most economists attribute the inflation bout of the last three years to COVID-related supply and demand distortions, plus $7 trillion of fiscal and monetary stimulus that pushed a gusher of money into the economy. That stimulus was largely bipartisan, including trillions in fiscal stimulus Congress passed under both Trump and Biden; monetary easing from the Fed began under Trump and continued under Biden.

All of which means it's tough to peg inflation to any one president's policies, whether Biden or Trump.

And some of these inflationary trends are likely to dissipate no matter who wins in November.

Goldman Sachs, for instance, forecasts inflation of 3.2% for all of 2024 and 2.5% for 2025, with no resurgence after that. Incomes have been growing by more than inflation for the last year, which means consumers are slowly regaining the purchasing power they lost in 2022 and 2023.

Most Americans don’t heed Wall Street forecasts, however, and Biden’s main challenge is convincing voters that inflation is receding for good. He tries at every campaign stop, reeling off all the ways he's trying to lower costs for consumers.

And if a president had the power, one might expect them to slash inflation to the ground and bask in the adulation of voters. Maybe the next one will.

Rick Newman is a senior columnist for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @rickjnewman.

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