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Will voters turn blue or red? Economics may hold the key

A series of bad economic news could reverse trends that seemed to point voters toward Democrats in their quest to hold on to power in the House and Senate this fall. But it remains to be seen whether Republicans can capitalize on voter dissatisfaction with the economy, given their own lack of a unified message.

Democrats were gaining confidence in their chances of securing an unlikely victory in November following the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, which invigorated Democratic activists and appeared to lift Democratic candidates in the polls. But the steady pace of bad economic news has picked up in recent weeks, and polls show Republicans have a clear advantage over Democrats when it comes to voter confidence in the economy.

Last week, voters were inundated with bad economic news. Food prices rise as inflation problems continue, house prices fall and the stock market has just had one of its worst weeks in an already bad year, contributing to a record drop in wealth American households.

In an interview with “60 Minutes” that aired over the weekend, President Joe Biden showed how difficult it is for Democrats to respond to criticism on economic issues. Asked about high inflation and grocery bills, Biden responded by downplaying the issue.

“Well, first of all, let’s put that into perspective,” he said. “(The) rate of inflation, month-over-month, has only increased an inch. Barely at all. To which, correspondent Scott Pelley replied: ‘That’s the rate highest inflation, Mr President, in 40 years.

On the possibility of a recession, Biden said he would avoid it by “growing the economy.”

But economist Brian Riedl, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said a recession is still a “very real” possibility in the coming months, in part because of Democratic policies. Even as it became clear that inflation was a growing problem, he said, Democrats continued to pump money into the economy, both through their legislative agenda and through Biden’s executive actions, including his recent decision to forgive billions of dollars in student loans.

“The more the president and Congress adopt policies that will make inflation worse, the more we will need the Federal Reserve to rein in inflation,” Riedl said.

As the Fed continues to raise interest rates in an attempt to calm inflation, the more likely it is that the economy will slide into recession, which could put Democrats at a disadvantage not just halfway through this year, but also in the 2024 presidential election, Riedl continued.

But for Republicans to take full advantage of runaway inflation, they would have to have their own economic agenda to follow, and so far their strategy seems to be to rely on the bad economy that is sinking Democrats rather than come up with their own solutions, he said.

Part of the problem is that the party base has shifted in recent years on economic issues, muddying the waters not just for voters but elected officials as well. Riedl worked on a deficit reduction plan for Utah Sen. Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, but the days of Republicans worrying about the deficit seem long gone, he said. Policies that can help fight inflation — like lowering tariffs and reducing regulations — no longer appear to have popular support among Republican or grassroots lawmakers.

Despite their lack of consensus on economic issues, keeping the economy at the forefront of voters’ minds would always seem to help Republicans. But the biggest issue holding Republicans back from focusing on the economy is abortion — and they have their own party members to thank for keeping the issue front and center.

Many Republicans recently expressed frustration with Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., after he released a bill banning most abortions in the United States after 15 weeks. Democrats immediately seized on the bill, calling it a “national abortion ban.”

Graham’s bill is in line with international abortion laws, and more in line with what many American voters say is on the issue, but many in the party see the issue as a loser for them and want to keep the issue. completely out of the news. .

Some Republican candidates, like Senate candidate Blake Masters in Arizona, have attempted to pivot on the abortion issue by portraying their Democratic opponents as extreme on the issue. Other Republicans just want the problem gone. Other concerns weigh on voters’ minds this year — such as high crime and former President Donald Trump’s continued presence in the news — but inflation and the economy consistently rank among the top concerns of voters. voters in the polls.

With early voting weeks to go, it remains to be seen whether Republicans can keep voters focused on the economy as they head to the polls, or whether their lack of a unified message will keep them from winning in November. .

Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion