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This year may have seen unemployment drop, stocks rise, and continued — albeit slowing — growth, but those are all big-picture, "macro" numbers for the U.S. economy. On the ground, for Americans staring at spiraling digits on gas pumps and grocery registers, the numbers they're watching are rising prices. And that, in turn, leads to poll numbers with sharply negative ratings for the U.S. economy, with two-thirds calling it bad; these are the worst numbers since the depths of the pandemic in the summer of 2020.
Meanwhile, in Washington, although President Biden was able to tout the passage of a bipartisan infrastructure bill that draws majority backing from Americans, it is inflation and the economy that are on the minds of Americans as the main measures of what they say they're using to judge him right now.
Americans know why inflation is happening, and it's not all political: the biggest majority cite supply issues after the pandemic as the cause. Smaller majorities blame labor shortages and higher consumer demand since the pandemic. Republicans, especially, also cast some blame on the COVID relief bill passed by Congress earlier this year. But as with many problems that present themselves, Americans nonetheless evaluate a president on how well it's addressed once it happens.
Gas prices are a particular reason people cite for why they think the overall economy is bad — and that's another window into how people process and measure what exactly the "economy" is when asked to evaluate it, focusing at the moment on things of immediate cost and concern. About half of Americans are at least somewhat concerned about their ability to afford gas right now.
Not everyone sees inflation as a huge problem, but it's hitting lower- and middle-income Americans harder, and it appears to have implications for the holiday season. There's a majority who call inflation "difficult" or even a "hardship" to them rather than just an inconvenience, and those Americans report planning some kind of cutback, like delaying a big purchase, reducing gift purchases, or taking fewer trips. Seven in 10 say they'll scale back holiday celebrations.
Though much of this hinges on peoples' incomes, as is the case with a lot of measures in these politically divided days, partisan responses also enter into evaluations that one might think are just objective calculations: Republicans are even more likely than Democrats to say the things they're buying cost more, or are hard to find, and that's the case no matter their income level.
Views of Biden
The positive political news here for Joe Biden is that infrastructure in the form of roads and bridges remains broadly popular, in principle, and the bill itself draws majority support.
Behind his overall 44% approval rating — which has declined over the course of the year — Mr. Biden's rating for handling coronavirus generally, and vaccine distribution in particular, are both still in positive territory, though they too have trended down. But other measures, including his handling of inflation, are low. Asked specifically which of those issues matter most in how they evaluate Mr. Biden overall, they're all important, but it's the economy that stands out.
The U.S.-Mexico border
President Biden draws plenty of criticism from the right and from some on the left, too, for his handling of immigration, generally. To those on the right, and in particular for those who voted for former President Trump, for whom the issue was so important, Mr. Biden's handling of it has long been unsatisfactory, and specifically they say not "tough enough." On the left, a substantial number of liberals — about a third — feel President Biden's handling of the border situation, in particular, is similar to the Trump administration's.
Four in 10 liberals and three in 10 Democrats feel Mr. Biden and Democrats have done less than they promised on immigration in the 2020 campaign.
There are also important differences in who people think the migrants are, and what their motivations might be for trying to cross. Half of Americans describe the migrants as people looking for jobs and better lives. Those on the political left are more apt to describe the migrants as fleeing violence elsewhere. On the political right, conservatives and Republicans are more likely than liberals to include, among their beliefs, the view that some migrants are criminals and gang members, and comparably much less apt than liberals and Democrats to describe them as looking for jobs and better lives.
Those on the right are especially apt to see a causal connection between migration and Biden administration statements or policy, too. They say the migrants are trying to enter the U.S. because they believe the Biden administration would accept them.
This CBS News/YouGov survey was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2,058 U.S. adult residents interviewed between November 15-19, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the U.S. Census American Community Survey, and the U.S. Census Current Population Survey, as well as 2020 presidential vote. The margin of error is ±3.0 points.