A shift in views on inflation

August 22, 2022

If there’s one issue that has dominated the discussion in the 2022 election cycle (besides abortion rights), it’s inflation. A rise in the cost of living has been hard to miss, giving way to many explanations and finger-pointing over what is to blame. With inflation now cooling off, voters are still evaluating conflicting – and heavily politicized – claims about what’s causing the rise in consumer prices.

In the December 2021 edition of the Carolina Forward Poll, we asked North Carolina voters what they saw as the top reasons for inflation. In the August edition just completed earlier this month, we tested the question again to see how voter sentiment had changed. The results show that voters have traded almost half of the blame for COVID for increased resentment for corporate greed, and a bit towards the war in Ukraine. Blame assigned to the Biden administration is almost unchanged.

Much as it was in December, assignment of blame for inflation is strongly partisan for Republican voters. A whopping 81% of Republican voters cited the Biden administration for the biggest cause of inflation in this survey, versus 87% back in December. Among Independents, blame for the Biden administration also grew, from 39% in December to 52% in August. Nevertheless, most voters overall still blame a combination of factors, with corporate greed in particular significantly gaining share among both Independents and Democrats.

Another key, but often overlooked, question on this topic is: do voters actually think inflation can be solved? That is, are elected leaders actually able to get inflation under control? This poll suggests voters are far from certain. Only about a quarter of voters overall (27%) believe that elected leaders can get inflation under control easily. In every voter segment measured, less than a third of voters believed the same:

Pluralities of voters in every group either did not know/were unsure whether inflation could be solved, or thought it would only work itself out over time, with Democrats and Black voters most likely to give that answer. This surprising result touches on the political salience of the inflation issue itself. While voters dislike inflation, if they also don't believe candidates for election can actually do anything about it, that could blunt the force of the issue.

The August Consumer Price Index (CPI) report will be released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in mid-September. That report, building on the July report that showed a dramatic drop in the rise of consumer prices, should tell us more about where inflation is headed. What it says could have important implications for the November election.

See "Inflation: Why, and How to Fix It"

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