The White House plan to sell Bidenomics: Hit the road, ignore the polls

US President Joe Biden speaks about his economic plan “Bidenomics” at the Philly Shipyard, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 20, 2023.

Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Thursday toured a revitalized shipyard in Philadelphia, where he made the argument that is increasingly dominating his speeches and his 2024 reelection campaign: The U.S. economy is strong because his agenda is working.

“Together we are transforming the country, not just through jobs, not just through manufacturing, but also by rebuilding our infrastructure,” Biden told a crowd of hardhat-wearing union workers who stood atop steel beams three storeys high.

“I’ve already announced 35,000 projects in 4,500 communities all across America, proving we can do big things, and right here in Philly you’re going build $1 billion worth of tunnels,” he said to cheers.

But the choreographed excitement and stagecraft on display in Philadelphia belied a different sentiment among voters about what’s been dubbed “Bidenomics.”

The CNBC All-America Economic Survey, released Thursday, found that just 37% of respondents approved of Biden’s handling of the economy, while 58% disapproved. Only 20% of Americans agreed that the economy was excellent or good, while a whopping 79% said it was just fair or poor, CNBC’s poll found.

A Monmouth University survey on Wednesday told a similar story, with Biden garnering net negative approvals for his handling of three key parts of the economy: jobs and unemployment, transportation and energy infrastructure, and inflation.

“The president has been touting ‘Bidenomics,’ but the needle of public opinion has not really moved. Americans are just not giving him a lot of credit when it comes to the economy,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, in a statement.

But it’s not that Biden hasn’t been trying. The president’s visit to the shipyard Thursday came at the tail end of a monthlong “Investing in America Blitz” that was intended to promote Bidenomics.

Since mid-June, Biden Cabinet officials have been canvassing the country to draw attention to places where Democrats’ 2022 infrastructure and climate change bills are funding new projects and new jobs.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm drove an electric car through North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, visiting clean energy projects along the way. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra touted the Biden administration’s efforts to cap healthcare costs on trips to Ohio, Michigan and New York. In total, a dozen top officials, including the president and first lady Jill Biden, visited more than 20 states.

Meanwhile, Americans’ pessimistic view of the economy and Biden’s handling of it are all the more striking given new data this month which increasingly points to a healthy U.S. economy emerging from a once in a lifetime pandemic. Inflation is coming down, the employment rate appears to be holding steady, and wages have risen.

To get a sense of how much better the economy is doing than experts had expected, the Citigroup Economic Surprise Index tracks the difference between economic indicators and what the consensus expectations were for them ahead of time.

As of Wednesday, the index was the highest it has been in two years, with nearly two thirds of economic data points coming in above expectations.

If Americans were just as surprised as the experts are, it could help explain why so many voters have yet to come around to the merits of Bidenomics.

Which brings us back to Biden’s purpose in Philadelphia.

“I’m not here to declare victory. We’ve got a long way to go on the economy,” Biden told the shipbuilders. “I’m here to say we have more work to do, but we have a plan that’s turning things around pretty quickly.”

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