A tough environment but a long way to go

Published April 14, 2022

By Thomas Mills

A few weeks ago, I wrote that the Russian invasion of Ukraine could give the Biden administration and Democrats a reset. It didn’t happen. Instead, inflation and gas prices became the driving story. As usual, domestic issues, not foreign policy, dominates politics and perceptions. 

Right now, the political landscape for Democrats remains bleak despite a relatively strong economy. Democrats and left-leaning pundits keep screaming about jobs and the low unemployment rate, but consumers are more concerned about their declining purchasing power as prices continue to climb. Self-interest drives elections, not statistics. Right now, people are more concerned about their ability to pay their bills and support their lifestyle than the impact of employment numbers.

In addition to inflation, Democrats face additional headwinds. The Biden administration is blaming Russia for rising gas prices, but the public appears to be blaming Biden for the invasion—or at least his handling of it. In reality, Biden has done a good job responding to Putin’s aggressiveness. He’s united NATO and restored some respect for the US that was lost under Trump. To most people, though, that doesn’t matter. They’re just blaming him for not being able to control the price of gas and pushing the blame off on Putin or Russia is not going to work. After almost two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans don’t want to hear much about military confrontations. 

 In addition, the fix for inflation is painful. We’ve been living with historically low interest rates for so long that most people believe three to four percent mortgage rates are the norm. The announcement that we’ve now reach 5% is putting homeownership out of reach for some people, especially first time home buyers. Given that Democrats are dependent on younger voters, that’s bad news. It could certainly dampen their enthusiasm for voting and it may turn them towards the GOP. 

All of that said, we’re still a long way from the election and public opinion can shift faster than at any time in history. Gas prices are going down. The economy really IS strong. If inflation goes down over the summer and the pandemic stays in check, Democrats might have some successes to run on. Overcoming the fundamentals might be tough. The first midterm following a presidential election is almost always tough for the party in the White House, but if inflation slows down and the Ukraine fades from the headlines, November might not be as bad as it looks right now.