Democrats think it’s time for President Biden to recalibrate his economic message if he wants it to resonate with voters going into the 2024 election.
Biden hasn’t been able to break through to voters his top message — that the economy is better off now than it was when he took office. He’s been touting Bidenomics along the campaign trail, tying his name to his economic agenda in an attempt to take credit for a healing financial market.
But with inflation still high, interest rates on goods stubbornly through the roof and the housing market hobbling, Biden’s handling of the economy takes hit after hit in polls. Voters say they felt better off financially under his predecessor — whom he will likely meet again in the 2024 general election — leaving Democrats to suggest it’s time for the Biden campaign to change its game on the matter.
“I think the campaign has time to tweak its messaging. Maybe not abandon it because I think there’s an awful lot of good to talk about. But in terms of the messaging itself, how that’s said, how it’s done, I think they need some tweaking and that’s what the polling is there to do—constructive criticism, so to speak,” said former Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.).
One of those surveys, an Economist/YouGov poll from October, found only 39 percent of voters approve of Biden’s handling of jobs and the economy. At the same time, Reuters/Ipsos polling puts the economy as the most important issue concerning Americans for more than a hundred weeks running.
In a New York Times-Siena College opinion poll released earlier this month, voters in six battleground states said they trusted Trump over Biden on the economy, 59 percent to 37 percent. Those six states are going to be imperative to a Biden win come next November.
Such figures are prompting some to urge that the president’s reelection bid should take hints from the numbers and readjust its messaging as a result.
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For example, only 24 percent of likely voters said “the economy is getting better” for people like them, according to new research from the progressive groups Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) and Data for Progress. But when presented with a wordier statement that “our economy is beginning to turn the corner after a few tough years,” including a name-drop of former President Trump and Biden in contrast, the responses rose to 43 percent saying the economy is getting better.
“We cannot, just through sheer repetition, convince voters of something that is not their lived reality when it comes to economics,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the PCCC.
Democratic messaging, including that coming from Biden, should be “acknowledging pain and pivoting to a contrast,” Green said, and it should focus on “beginning progress, not pretend that we’re already there.”
Doug Heye, a GOP strategist, said the Biden team has the tough task of chipping away at voters’ impressions that goods are just more expensive now than when Biden took office.
“They’ve got some good news that they can talk about, but everything that every American does that involves spending money, they’re spending more of it than they were when Joe Biden became president. And that’s now ingrained into their daily lives. And it’s very hard to chip away at that,” he said.
Joshua Doss, an analyst at the Democrat-aligned public opinion research firm HIT Strategies, said his team has found similar importance in striking a contrast between Democrats and Republicans when trying to get economic messaging across.
“There needs to be contrast more so to extremist Republicans … or the fact that the Republican Party doesn’t have a plan at all,” Doss said.
He also noted that, as Biden’s team works to get the word out about his record, voters still aren’t connecting the president to some of his initiatives, like lowering the cost of prescription drugs. But whenever survey respondents or focus groups are given more information, Doss said, the work is popular — a positive indicator for Biden as his campaign looks to reach more people in 2024.
The White House has been working to show off the president’s policies that aim to lower prices for Americans, which largely stem from the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure law. And, they say, they will keep up spreading the word of Bidenomics.
“We’re working every day to show the American people what President Biden and Congressional Democrats have delivered by lowering prescription drug prices, creating manufacturing jobs, and rebuilding our roads and bridges,” said Michael Kikukawa, assistant White House press secretary.
“That’s Bidenomics, and recent elections have shown that Americans prefer it to trickle-down MAGAnomics. We will continue reaching out to the portion of Americans who are not yet aware of those incredibly popular accomplishments,” he said.
But some Democrats argue there’s more to do — and that that’s where the issue lies — getting the messaging on the economy out there to voters.
“I would not use the word recalibrate. That implies that it is a simple messaging problem. I think they just need to put more work into telling people everything Biden has done for them. And that takes time, in this segmented media environment. They know this and are working on it,” said Ivan Zapien, a former Democratic National Committee official.
The 2024 presidential race is gearing up to be a possible 2020 rematch as Trump has long held front-runner status over the crowded GOP field. With the current and former presidents both in the ring, observers say a contrast between the two is key for Biden’s campaign in the general election.
“For the issues of the economy, jobs, cost — it is time to go full tilt, unsparingly drawing a constant, constant, minute-by-minute contrast with Donald Trump and his abysmal record,” said Democratic strategist Jon Reinish. “Otherwise, we voters feeling uneasy about the economy … we’ll get lost.”
In addition to a strong Trump contrast, the Biden team needs to get on Americans’ level as they feel the strain of the economic landscape, said William Howell, a politics professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.
“I think Biden has, in terms of his messaging, got to talk in very specific concrete ways that are not about the big label you attach to the economy as a whole, but the specific and tangible ways in which particular initiatives improve the lives of particular communities,” Howell said.
Doss, the analyst, also raised concerns about the term “Bidenomics,” which “just inherently puts Biden at the very center” of the economy, and could leave Americans feeling a lack of agency in the president’s policies. “We have to make the working person the hero of the narrative,” Doss said.
Reinish suggested Democratic voters “are not ready for a catchphrase” and that “a pause on Bidenomics, which does seem like it’s happening, is probably smart.”
But Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf said “there’s no other choice” but to tie Biden to the economy, even with the Bidenomics tag.
“He’s got to somehow convince people that he has brought us from the darkness into the light, and if he fails to do that, he won’t be reelected,” Sheinkopf said.
To sum up what Bidenomics means to voters, Biden has touted that low unemployment is a clear indicator that the economy is doing well and that his work to boost manufacturing in the U.S. will keep the economy strong long term.
Biden has also touted the notion that Trump is one of only two presidents in U.S. history who left office with fewer jobs than when he came into office.
Heye, the GOP strategist, added that Republicans have similar problems in deciding how to handle this economy, but they are focused now on tapping into voters’ anger on the economy.
“If it’s hard for the Biden administration to say what it is or could do, it’s also hard for Republicans to put forth concrete proposals,” Heye said. “But clearly there’s a voter anger there that they’re trying to tap into and I think successfully tapped into.”