Americans are more worried about inflation than at any point since 1985, and that concern is quickly escalating, according to a new poll, a potential problem for Democrats and the White House ahead of the midterm elections in November.
A Gallup poll released Tuesday showed that rising prices were the No. 1 economic concern for Americans, with 17 percent calling inflation the “nation’s most important problem.”
Inflation stress divided slightly among income groups — 63 percent of adults earning $40,000 or less were very concerned, compared with 58 percent of those earning $100,000 or more — and starkly along political lines. About 79 percent of Republicans were seriously worried about inflation, versus 35 percent of Democrats.
“That reflects the ongoing phenomenon we’re seeing in polarization,” said Lydia Saad, director of U.S. social research at Gallup. She noted that people increasingly answered economic questions differently when their party controlled the White House, and often in a way that reflected the administration’s messaging. “Democrats are just going to downplay problems, just like Republicans did when Trump was in office,” she said.
President Biden’s administration initially expected rapid inflation to fade. As it has lingered, the White House has switched to arguing that it is part of a global phenomenon and has been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That is accurate but probably not the full story, since inflation in the United States is higher than in many other developed economies.
Prices in the United States rose 7.9 percent in the 12 months through February, according to the latest reading of the Consumer Price Index released this month. That was the highest level of inflation since early 1982.
Ms. Saad said it might be a “silver lining” that the worry index was lower now than at the start of the 1980s, when about half of American adults ranked rising prices as the nation’s top problem. Inflation had been elevated for years back then, peaking at about 14.6 percent in 1980.
Even so, rising prices have been undermining confidence in the overall economy, according to the Gallup numbers and other consumer sentiment readings. Survey data from the University of Michigan shows that Republicans have been more pessimistic about the economy than at any point since 1980. Democrats, while more optimistic, were less confident in March than they had been at any point since Mr. Biden’s 2020 election victory.