Earlier this week President Biden asked Congress to temporarily suspend collection of federal gas and diesel taxes for three months as a way to relieve pressure on Americans as national gas prices rise to $5 a gallon. If the price keeps going up, it could top highs not seen since the summer of 2008. High gas prices are also helping to drive overall inflation, which reached 8.6 percent as of May.
It’s no surprise, then, that Biden is responding to pressure to do something — anything — about gas prices. As plenty of people have pointed out, the cost per gallon is displayed on giant signs everyone can see. Transportation and groceries are necessities that are purchased weekly or even daily, which means Americans feel these changes in a visible, visceral way. It also gets at why they’re so important politically, especially as surveys show that Americans are adjusting their budgets.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans say they’ve altered their spending habits to save money because of inflation, according to a Morning Consult poll released this week. More than half, 53 percent, say they’ve changed their eating and drinking habits. Families are eating out less often, cutting back on meat and forgoing alcohol and organic produce.
A similar poll from last month found that middle-income households were spending slightly less on groceries overall and shifting to less expensive options, like store brands instead of name brands. (Higher-income families were just spending more.)
A Washington Post/Schar School poll conducted April 21 to May 12 found similar levels of bargain hunting — 87 percent of respondents said they took the time to find the cheapest product. The poll also found that 59 percent were reducing their use of electricity and 59 percent were driving less. But one of the biggest impacts was in cutting back on entertainment or eating out (77 percent); perhaps inflation was partially behind the reported drop in Netflix subscribers earlier this year. Respondents are also putting off otherwise planned purchases (74 percent). And though many planned summer vacations that were similar to those they’d had pre-pandemic, they aimed 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 choices based on what they can afford instead of what they want. In a Pew Research Center survey from January, majorities of Americans said 6 out of the 8 economic indicators they were asked about were worse than the previous year. Only 28 percent ranked the economy as good. Purchasing confidence has also fallen, which means people don’t expect inflation to end any time soon.
Moreover, many are dipping into their savings this year to cover increased costs — despite low unemployment and increases in wages. In a Wall Street Journal/NORC poll from last month, two-thirds of people said it would be somewhat or very easy to find a new job, but the boom in the labor market hasn’t been enough to ease the problems elsewhere.
In general, Americans are pretty pessimistic, not just about their own financial situation — more than a third of respondents in that Wall Street Journal/NORC poll ranked their financial situation as poor or not so good — but about the current political system, too. FiveThirtyEight’s collaboration with Ipsos found, for instance, that Americans are especially worried about inflation and political polarization. And a Gallup poll released at the end of May found that “The government/Poor leadership” edged out the high cost of living and inflation as a top concern.
That said, some experts worry that a gas holiday could make inflation worse by increasing demand, and it would need to be approved by Congress regardless. It may, however, be popular politically: A YouGov poll published Thursday found that 55 percent of respondents would approve of the move. But it’s also possible that a gas holiday just wouldn’t do much to offset the high cost of living that’s squeezing many households. America’s ragged safety net and fluctuating prices for necessities all have causes, and solutions, that are complex and frustrating to tease out, and many of these measures have always been a bit political anyway.
With increasing polarization, Americans could be worried about the same issues but for a variety of reasons. But as with so many aspects of American life, the president remains the most visible person to blame. Earlier this month, Biden’s approval rating fell below 40 percent for the first time, which could argue that the worst, for the economy and for Biden, is still to come.
Other Polling Bites
- One nation under God? Yes, but decreasingly so. At present, 81 percent of Americans believe in God, according to a Gallup poll published last week that surveyed the strength of faith in the U.S. That number may sound high, but it’s the lowest ever reported since Gallup began asking the question in 1944 when 96 percent affirmed their belief. Some of today’s demographic breakdowns aren’t super surprising — liberal and younger Americans are less likely to believe than their conservative or older counterparts. But other findings do challenge common assumptions. There’s no discernible difference among Americans based on where they live — on average, 82 percent in cities, 80 percent in suburbs and 82 percent in rural areas believe in God, putting all three groups all uniformly on par with the national average. Most notably, every single demographic subgroup tracked — attributes spanning 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 fraction (59 percent) of Americans said they have a lot or some knowledge about Juneteenth, compared with 37 percent about a year ago. Gallup conducted surveys assessing public knowledge and support surrounding the observance in May 2021 — just weeks before Congress and then Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday — and again starting in late April 2022. At present, 45 percent of Americans are in support of its status as a federal holiday, up from 35 percent last year. That said, opposition toward Juneteenth has also increased, though not quite at the same rate: 30 percent actively disagree with its holiday designation, as opposed to 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 poll from Pew published last week corroborates this while also suggesting that reporters fail to fully perceive audience hesitations: 65 percent of U.S. journalists told Pew news organizations do a good or very good job reporting the news accurately, but only 35 percent of U.S. adults agreed. Moreover, the Reuters Institute researchers found that 42 percent of Americans actively avoid the news, a trend that has gradually risen in recent years.
- Around 6 in 10 Americans with smartphones believe the relationship with their device is, in reality, not all that smart, finds a new Gallup survey. That’s approximately a 50 percent jump, too, since the organization’s researchers first asked the question (“Do you think you spend too much time using your smartphone?”) in 2015. Each age bracket and gender demographic studied reported a steep uptick in “yes” responses, with increases ranging between 40 percent and 230 percent depending on the demographic category. (Those 65 and over account for the 230 percent jump.) The study also found that 97 percent of respondents owned smartphones, compared with 81 percent seven years ago.
- Although 43 percent of Americans believe self-driving cars will one day become commonplace, 60 percent report they’d feel at least somewhat uncomfortable riding in one, per a YouGov poll conducted last Friday. Disaggregating that figure by age, however, reveals diverging attitudes based on generation. The proportion who voiced discomfort swells to 80 percent for those age 65 and over, while it plummets to 38 percent for 18- to 29-year-olds. The numbers also look a bit different by race, with white Americans more inclined to feel uneasy (65 percent) than any other group.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 39.2 percent of Americans approve of the job 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 approved and 54.3 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -14.4 points). One 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 of the generic congressional ballot, Republicans currently lead by 2.3 percentage points (44.8 percent to 42.5 percent). A week ago, Republicans led Democrats by 2.6 points (45.0 percent to 42.4 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Republicans by 2.3 points (45.0 percent to 42.7 percent).