‘It’s a mysterious situation’: Journalist explains why Biden's economy is strong — but his approval is low

‘It’s a mysterious situation’: Journalist explains why Biden's economy is strong — but his approval is low

In early December, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the unemployment rate had fallen to 4.2% — which was a major improvement over the unemployment numbers the U.S. suffered during the worst parts of the COVID-19 recession of 2020. But that announcement has been overshadowed by inflation-related headlines, and President Joe Biden continues to suffer from weak approval ratings. Journalist Ryan Cooper discusses those ratings in an op-ed published by MSNBC’s website on the next-to-last day of 2021, arguing that Biden should be getting credit for the “hot” economy.

“The American economy is hotter than it's been in more than 20 years,” Cooper explains. “Unemployment is just 4.2%, lower than it ever got during Barack Obama’s presidency, and 6.1 million jobs have been created just from January through November. Growth is also surging: As the Wall Street Journal reported, analysts expect a 7% annualized growth rate in the last quarter of 2021 — a rate better than Europe and even China.”

Cooper continues, “Yet contrary to all political conventional wisdom, President Joe Biden is getting no credit for it. Not only is his approval rating stuck in the low 40s, Gallup's Economic Confidence Index was also recently measured at minus 33 — matching the initial stage of the pandemic, when jobs were vanishing by the millions and the Federal Reserve barely managed to stave off a global financial crisis.”

Historically, U.S. voters have punished presidents when the economy was bad and rewarded them when the economy performed well. President George H.W. Bush, for example, went from having stellar approval ratings in early 1991 to being voted out of office during the 1992 recession. And President Herbert Hoover suffered a humiliating defeat during the Great Depression when Franklin Delano Roosevelt enjoyed a landslide victory in 1932. President Barack Obama struggled with low approval while dealing with the brutal aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, which left Democrats extremely vulnerable during the 2010 midterm elections.

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But Biden, Cooper notes, finds himself facing an usual combination: a “hot” economy and weak approval ratings.

“It's a mysterious situation,” Cooper writes. “But the ongoing economic disruptions, the hypnotizing power of right-wing media and the Democrats' own communication woes have something to do with it…. Thanks to the pandemic and fragile supply chains resulting from a previous decade of under-investment, there are shortages of many important goods…. Inflation is at its highest point in decades. People like jobs, but they don't like rising prices.”

Because of inflation and the pandemic, Cooper adds, “The economy doesn't feel nearly as good as 4% unemployment should feel.”

Cooper wraps up his op-ed by emphasizing that Biden needs to do a much better job convincing voters that his Build Back Better policies are working.

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“(Biden) could be drumming up a lot more support for his policies than he currently is,” Cooper argues. “If he doesn't, or if his party doesn't figure out a better way to get its message in front of voters than yelling at Maggie Haberman, then I fear his approval rating will remain down in the doldrums no matter how good the economy gets.”

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