Discontent with soaring inflation is the biggest issue for voters heading into this year’s midterm elections, and Democrats will pay the price, according to Frank Luntz, a pollster and longtime GOP strategist.
While Luntz is a Republican, he tends to take both sides to task when he feels they are missing the mark on an issue.
“We’re not just anxious anymore. This country gets angry when it goes to the supermarket, when it fills up,” Luntz told CNBC on Friday. “They’re going to eliminate that anger at the ballot box in November,” with Democrats’ slim majorities in the House and Senate on the line.
Luntz said he couldn’t understand why President Joe Biden was trying to paint such a rosy picture of the economy when many people are struggling with higher prices amid the difficulties of the continuing pandemic and the increase in Covid cases nationwide due to the highly contagious omicron variant.
Voters have given Biden poor marks on the economy in recent polls, including the latest CNBC/Change Research survey.
“There’s a complete disconnect between what they’re told and what they’re experiencing,” Luntz said. “The reason inflation is so important politically and economically is that it is universal, pervasive and understandable.” He added: “I think it’s going to have a much bigger effect on the election outcome in November than things like the Voting Rights Act or January 6. It hits people where they live.”
Luntz bases much of his analysis on takeaways from focus groups with swing voters. Looking ahead to the 2020 presidential election, for example, he predicted that Biden would defeat incumbent President Donald Trump. However, before and after the election, the pollster instead even handed over his criticism of Trump and Biden, in interviews on CNBC.
“You can’t blame the Republicans” for high inflation, Luntz said Friday on “Squawk Box.” “It’s just something that’s happened in the last year.”
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“It may not be Joe Biden’s fault,” Luntz acknowledged, acknowledging that the dynamics driving the price hike, such as the Federal Reserve’s persistent easy money covering both Trump and Biden administrations, is more complex than current White House policies alone.
“But the public increasingly thinks that’s his [Biden’s] fault. And the implications of that are significant for Democrats,” he added.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This week, there was more confirmation of what Americans are feeling in their daily lives: raging inflation and everything from food to gasoline to buying big-ticket items like cars. used, costs much more.
The government said on Thursday that the December producer price index rose 9.7% year-on-year, the biggest increase on record. Last month’s wholesale inflation reading came a day after December’s consumer price index rose 7% year-on-year, the fastest pace since June 1982. While both numbers were basically in line with Wall Street estimates, they were even more evidence of problematic inflation.
The Fed recently telegraphed accelerated measures to ease price pressures after spending months saying the rise in inflation would be transitory. In confirmation hearings this week on Capitol Hill and in the minutes of the Fed’s December meeting, central bank officials pointed to multiple near-zero interest rate hikes this year, in addition to a faster reduction in Covid-era bond purchases and talk of shrinking the Fed’s balance sheet.
Luntz said the failure of Biden’s massive Build Back Better bill at the hands of conservative Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin was a blessing for the economy. More stimulus money “would just be fuel, it would just be a lubricant for more inflation and that’s exactly what people don’t want right now,” he added.
“The challenge is that you can’t spend to get out of it. You can spend more money on hiring people. You can spend more money on getting the economy going or helping small businesses. But in when it comes to inflation, spending more money makes the problem worse,” Luntz said.
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