An improving economy, along with a groundswell of voters motivated to the polls by a recent Supreme Court decision on abortion rights, could help President Biden and fellow Democrats in the midterms.
Biden hails ‘outstanding’ July jobs report
President Joe Biden hailed the July jobs report Friday showing that U.S. employers added an astonishing 528,000 jobs last month despite flashing warning signs of an economic downturn. Biden called it “the fastest job growth in history.” (Aug. 5)
- Voter: “I would feel the right direction would be $1.20 a gallon.”
- In several areas, gas prices fell below $4 per gallon.
- Gas prices dropped at least 20% in more than a dozen states this week.
- Could higher employment and abortion rights help Democrats pick up seats?
WASHINGTON–Nearly a year since the Afghanistan withdrawal kicked off a series of setbacks that sent President Joe Biden’s approval numbers on a downward spiral, this week had the makings of a comeback.
In one of the most productive and successful weeks of his beleaguered presidency, an Al Qaeda leader was killed, gas prices dipped below $4 per gallon in half the country, key parts of his agenda passed the narrowly divided Senate, conservative Kansas protected abortion rights in a stunning vote, and huge job gains signaled the resilience of the economy.
Biden’s new challenge will be convincing Americans, who are still feeling the strain of paying more to live, the country is moving in the right direction.
“I would feel the right direction would be $1.20 a gallon,” said Christina Hyde, a 35-year-old independent voter in Calhoun, Georgia.
- New jobs report: The latest jobs report showed an increase of 528,000 in July–the final piece of recovering the 22 million jobs lost during COVID. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate dropped to 3.5%, tying a 50-year low that was reached just before the pandemic.
- The upside: Major job gains may quell warnings that a recession is imminent and offer a bright spot among high housing costs, grocery prices and utility bills.
- The downside: More jobs mean there are more workers, more consumer spending and more demand, which could further drive up inflation. The Federal Reserve, which had predicted and wanted lower numbers, will likely move to raise interest rates again to try and tamp down inflation.
- Why it matters: If Biden can point to an improving economy, along with a groundswell of voters motivated to the polls by a recent Supreme Court decision on abortion rights, it could benefit Democrats in the midterms. Polling has shown the economy has been one of the weakest areas and biggest vulnerabilities for the president’s party heading into the November election.
What the jobs report means for Biden and the midterms
Biden described the jobs report Friday as “outstanding” and historic: “More people are working than at any point in American history.”
The president is touting the 10 million jobs added on his watch as “the fastest job growth in history,” as he emerges from COVID with a strong message to take on the road.
Biden pointed to the 613,000 manufacturing jobs since he took office as “the most in three decades.”
If this messaging connects with voters at home, gas prices continue to drop, and the Federal Reserve interest rate increases and wealthy Americans continuing to spend are enough to stave off a recession, that is likely to benefit Democrats in the midterms, especially as abortion rights motivate voters to the polls.
Recent polling shows the economy, abortion and inflation are the top issues on voters’ minds.
Gas prices – a cost most voters feel weekly, if not daily – have fallen an average of 50 cents nationally in the last month. In several areas, prices are less than $4 per gallon. Prices dropped 20% in more than a dozen states this week. Costs are expected to fall further in autumn as winter-blend gas, which is cheaper to make than summer-blend gas, hits the market.
But that doesn’t matter much to independent voters like Christina Taylor, a 42-year-old mortgage bankruptcy specialist in Cincinnati, Ohio. Gas prices are falling in her city, but she’d prefer to see them about $2 less per gallon.
She said she is so squeezed by inflation that she couldn’t afford college room and board payments for her sons and is now using her employee health savings account to buy toilet paper, paper towels and mouthwash at Walgreens.
“Going to the grocery store and gas station is literally the worst,” Taylor said. “I’m not sure if the leaders in the White House and Congress realize how much regular American people are struggling.”
She’s an independent who has voted for both parties in the past, she said, but she’s leaning Republican this year because of the economy.
But if the economy continues to show positive signs and abortion rights help Democrats attract Republicans and independents like they did in Kansas this week, Biden could buck the historical trend of the first midterm going against the president’s party.
That historical trend has typically been tied to a president’s approval numbers and a generic congressional ballot question about which party a voter would choose today. Earlier in this election cycle, that answer has typically favored Republicans. But since Roe was overturned, that advantage has disappeared.
The latest USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll shows Democrats with a 44%-40% advantage over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot.
Suburban voters who chose Republicans in countywide, school board and township races in 2021 are trending back to Democrats because of the abortion issue, according to Terry Madonna, senior political affairs fellow at Millersville University near Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
“There isn’t any doubt that abortion has shifted the tide,” he said. But, he cautioned, “We have a long way to go to November.”
Candy Woodall is a Congress reporter for USA TODAY. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.