With 496 days until the 2024 presidential election, the Biden Administration is leaning into a message that evokes a phrase coined by famed political strategist James Carville: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Last week, the White House circulated a document outlining messaging and data points on the success of the Biden Administration’s post-pandemic economic recovery. Citing historically low unemployment, higher per capita income rates, declining gas prices, and steadying inflation, the administration has enlisted congressional Democrats to help tout these economic successes and plans for further growth – which has been dubbed “Bidenomics.” The President will make his case directly to the American people in a speech today in Chicago.
The Biden Administration has held firmly to its Build Back Better agenda by investing heavily in infrastructure and innovation - promising to revitalize the U.S. economy and ensure competitiveness in the global market. At the same time, Republicans contend that those very investments have contributed significantly to the rate of inflation.
Will this message of economic resurgence resonate with voters? And if so, for how long? Many Americans continue to express frustration with high interest rates and the prices of goods and services. Increased employment and income rates may not be enough to draw attention away from the burden many are associating with their personal finances. Even if voters embrace the President’s message in the near-term, economic trends can be volatile. As the war in Ukraine has shown, global events can quickly and unexpectedly disrupt economic progress.
On the other hand, the extent to which economic conditions impact the outcome of U.S. elections has become less clear. In 1992, when then-Governor Bill Clinton’s lead campaign strategist made his aforementioned quip, high unemployment and stagnant wages appeared to be key factors that prevented incumbent George H.W. Bush from winning a second term. Today, identity politics, fueled by traditional and social media, dominate the national political discord – a trend that’s sure to continue for the foreseeable future.
Still, almost all polling shows that the economy is the top issue for voters. Experience shows that voters’ short memories ensure that the economy leading up to election day is a determining factor of the outcome. The economy of a year prior to the election is less important, regardless of whether it was a bull or bear market.
Another question is how the President’s potential opponents will choose to counter this message of economic revival. The large (and still growing) field of GOP-primary candidates will have an array of arguments that attempt to either dispute or distract from the Biden Administration’s messaging on economic successes. Former President Trump will almost certainly refer to what many saw as a booming economy during the pre-COVID days of his term. Others, like former CEO Vivek Ramaswamy, will likely highlight their business records.
Regardless of how the “Bidenomics” message resonates with the electorate, the reality is that the range of possible events that could help or hurt the President’s re-election chances in the next 16 months is vast. Time will tell whether it’s too early to be circling the campaign wagons on economic accomplishments.