Biden’s 2024 dilemma: US economy looks solid, but voters still not feeling it

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden goes into next year’s election with a vexing challenge: Just as the U.S. economy is getting stronger, people are still feeling horrible about it.

Pollsters and economists say there has never been as wide a gap between the underlying health of the economy and public perception. The divergence could be a decisive factor in whether the Democrat secures a second term next year. Republicans are seizing on the dissatisfaction to skewer Biden, while the White House is finding less success as it tries to highlight economic progress.

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“Things are getting better and people think things are going to get worse — and that’s the most dangerous piece of this,” said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who has worked with Biden. Lake said voters no longer want to just see inflation rates fall — rather, they want an outright decline in prices, something that last happened on a large scale during the Great Depression.

“Honestly, I’m kind of mystified by it,” she said.

By many measures, the U.S. economy is rock solid. Friday’s employment report showed that employers added 199,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate dropped to 3.7%. Inflation has plummeted in little over a year from a troubling 9.1% to 3.2% without causing a recession — a phenomenon that some once skeptical economists have dubbed “immaculate.”

Yet people remain dejected about the economy, according to the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment. The preliminary December figures issued Friday showed a jump in sentiment as people seem to recognize that inflation is cooling. But the index is still slightly below its July level.

In a possible warning sign for Biden, people surveyed for the index brought up the 2024 election. Sentiment rose dramatically more among Republicans than Democrats, potentially suggesting that GOP voters became more optimistic about winning back the White House.

“Consumers have been feeling broadly uneasy about the economy since the pandemic, and they are still coming to grips with the notion that we are not returning to the pre-pandemic ‘normal,’” Joanne Hsu, director and chief economist of the survey, said of the overall trend in recent months.

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