Earlier this week, President Biden asked Congress to temporarily suspend federal gas and diesel tax collection for three months to ease pressure on Americans as national gas prices soar to $5 a gallon. If the price continues to rise, it could surpass highs not seen since the summer of 2008. High gas prices are also helping to drive headline inflation, which hit 8.6 percent in May.
It’s no surprise, then, that Biden is responding to pressure to do something – anything – on gas prices. As many people have pointed out, the cost per gallon is displayed on giant signs for everyone to see. Transportation and groceries are necessities bought weekly or even daily, meaning Americans are feeling these changes in visible, visceral ways. It also becomes clear why they are so important politically, especially since polls show that Americans are adjusting their budgets.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans say they’ve changed their spending habits to save money from inflation, according to a Morning Consult poll released this week. More than half, 53 percent, say they have changed their eating and drinking habits. Families eat out less often, do without meat and abstain from alcohol and organic products.
A similar survey last month found that middle-income households are spending slightly less overall on groceries, shifting to cheaper options like private label rather than name-brand. (Higher-income families simply spent more.)
A Washington Post/Schar School survey conducted April 21-May 12 found a similar level of bargain hunting — 87 percent of respondents said they took the time to find the cheapest product. The survey also found that 59 percent reduced their electricity consumption and 59 percent drove less. But one of the biggest impacts was limiting entertainment or eating out (77 percent); perhaps inflation was partly behind the reported decline in Netflix subscribers earlier this year. The respondents (74 percent) are also postponing other planned purchases. And while many planned summer vacations resembled those they had before the pandemic, they wanted to spend less.
But while some families are changing their habits, that doesn’t mean they’re happy about it — and it probably doesn’t help that they’re making decisions based on what they can afford rather than what they want. In a January Pew Research Center poll, a majority of Americans said 6 of the 8 economic indicators they were asked about were worse than a year ago. Only 28 percent rated the economy as good. Buying confidence has also fallen, meaning people are not expecting inflation to end any time soon.
Also, this year many are drawing on their savings to cover rising costs – despite low unemployment and rising wages. In a Wall Street Journal/NORC poll last month, two-thirds of respondents said finding a new job was fairly or very easy, but the boom in the job market hasn’t been enough to ease problems elsewhere.
In general, Americans are fairly pessimistic, not just about their own financial health—more than a third of respondents in this Wall Street Journal/NORC poll rated their financial health as bad or not-so-good—but also about the current political system. FiveThirtyEight’s collaboration with Ipsos, for example, found that Americans are particularly concerned about inflation and political polarization. And a Gallup poll released in late May found that “government/poor leadership” pushed high living costs and inflation as top concerns.
But some experts fear a gas holiday could exacerbate inflation from rising demand and would need to be approved by Congress regardless. However, it could be politically popular: a YouGov poll released on Thursday found that 55 percent of those polled would support the move. But it’s also possible that a gas holiday wouldn’t do much to offset the high cost of living that’s squeezing many households. America’s tattered safety net and fluctuating prices for essentials all have causes and solutions that are complex and frustrating to figure out, and many of those actions have always been a bit political anyway.
As polarization increases, Americans may be concerned about the same issues, but for a variety of reasons. But as with so many aspects of American life, the most visible culprit remains the President. Earlier this month, Biden’s approval rating fell below 40 percent for the first time, which could suggest the worst is yet to come for the economy and for Biden.
Other polling bits
- One Nation Under God? Yes, but less and less. Currently, 81 percent of Americans believe in God, according to a Gallup poll examining the strength of belief in the United States released last week. That number may sound high, but it’s the lowest number ever reported since Gallup began asking the question in 1944, when she was 96 percent affirmed their belief. Some of today’s demographic collapses aren’t particularly surprising—liberal and younger Americans are less likely to believe this than their conservative or older counterparts. However, other findings challenge common assumptions. There is no discernible difference between Americans based on where they live — on average, 82 percent believe in God in cities, 80 percent in suburbs, and 82 percent in rural areas, all three groups consistently matching the national average. Most notably, every single demographic subgroup tracked — attributes that include everything from ethnicity to age, marital status to education level, or political leaning to geographic region — has fewer believers than the 2013-2017 surveys.
- A growing proportion (59 percent) of Americans say they know a lot or some about Juneteenth, compared with 37 percent about a year ago. Gallup conducted surveys in May 2021—just weeks before Congress and then Biden declared June 16 a federal holiday—and again beginning in late April 2022, assessing public knowledge and support regarding compliance. Currently, 45 percent of Americans support its status as a federal holiday, up from 35 percent last year. However, opposition to June 16 has also increased, albeit not quite to the same extent: 30 percent actively oppose its designation as a holiday, up from 25 percent a year ago.
- Less than a quarter of Americans – a historic low of 26 percent – trust the news, according to a new report from Oxford University’s Reuters Institute for Media Understanding. A Pew poll released last week confirms this, and also suggests reporters aren’t fully aware of audience hesitation: 65 percent of US journalists said Pew news outlets are doing a good or very good job of covering the Reporting news accurately, but only 35 percent of US adults agreed. Additionally, the Reuters Institute researchers found that 42 percent of Americans actively avoid the news, a trend that has gradually increased in recent years.
- According to a new Gallup poll, around six in 10 Americans with smartphones believe their relationship with their device isn’t really that smart. That’s also an increase of about 50 percent since the organization’s researchers first asked the question (“Do you think you’re spending too much time on your smartphone?”) in 2015. Every age group and gender demographic study reported a steep increase in “yes.” ‘ responses, with increases ranging from 40 percent to 230 percent depending on the demographic category. (People over 65 account for the 230 percent increase.) The study also found that 97 percent of respondents owned smartphones, compared to 81 percent seven years ago.
- Though 43 percent of Americans believe self-driving cars will one day become commonplace, 60 percent say they would feel at least slightly uncomfortable driving one, according to a YouGov poll conducted last Friday. However, when this figure is broken down by age, attitudes differ by generation. The proportion of uneasiness rises to 80 percent among those over 65, while it falls to 38 percent among those aged 18 to 29. The numbers also look a little different by race, with white Americans more likely to feel uncomfortable (65 percent) than any other group.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 39.2 percent of Americans approve of the work Biden is doing as president, while 55.4 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -16.2 points). At this time last week, 39.9 percent agreed and 54.3 percent disagreed (net agreement score -14.4 points). A month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 41.1 percent and a disapproval rating of 54.5 percent, for a net approval rating of -13.4 points.
In our average of polls for the general congressional vote, Republicans currently lead by 2.3 percentage points (44.8 percent vs. 42.5 percent). A week ago, Republicans led Democrats by 2.6 points (45.0 percent to 42.4 percent). At this point last month, voters preferred Republicans by 2.3 points (45.0 percent to 42.7 percent).