Gasoline prices and inflation, both of which are at record highs, continue to flash bright red warning lights for Democrats just months before voters head to the ballot box.
Poll after poll this month revealed Americans’ growing fears about the rising cost of goods — especially prices at the pump — and a greater willingness to lay blame on President Biden and Democrats.
The surveys underscore the challenges that Democrats face in an already difficult election cycle for the party.
“Two words: it sucks,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, Wisconsin Democrat and a leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
A Gallup poll this week found 77% of Americans said they worry “a great deal” or “a fair amount” about the availability and affordability of energy. The highest percentage of respondents cited inflation as the most important problem facing the country since 1985.
Both gas prices and inflation have hit all-time highs in recent weeks. Inflation rose to 7.9% in February, its highest level in four decades.
The key Senate battleground states of Arizona and Nevada, where election experts say the Democratic incumbents’ reelection chances are a toss-up, have higher than average gas prices. Arizona was at $4.69 per gallon and Nevada was at $5.25 on Wednesday, according to AAA. Arizona voters conveyed little optimism that prices will soon drop, according to a poll this week.
Despite the support across party lines for sanctioning Russian oil, the same can’t be said for the number of voters who pin blame on Russian President Vladimir Putin for energy prices.
A survey from ABC News/Ipsos this month found that while 77% supported a ban, 70% disapproved of Mr. Biden’s handling of rising gas prices.
Then an Emerson College poll last week showed that approximately the same number of voters, 39%, blamed Mr. Biden as they did oil companies and a ban on Russian energy imports combined.
An NBC News poll from over the weekend showed that 68% felt Mr. Biden’s priority should be reducing inflation and the cost of living, improving the economy and creating jobs versus 29% who said it should be working to end the Russia-Ukraine war.
A Morning Consult poll published Thursday revealed that while voters trust both parties equally when it comes to energy, Republicans have a 14-point advantage over Democrats on fighting inflation.
SEE ALSO: Biden’s big-spending policies helped fuel inflation, says Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco
Mr. Biden’s approval rating is near an all-time low at 40.6%, according to RealClear Politics’ average of recent polls.
“It just shows that James Carville’s old saying, ‘It’s the economy, stupid,’ still applies,” Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said. “There’s no question that gas prices are a big problem for Democrats. Gas pump sticker shock is a compelling issue, and I think Democrats need a much tougher message.”
That message, Mr. Bannon said, should be targeting Big Oil for record profits and allegedly taking advantage of consumers. He referenced proposed legislation that would levy a Big Oil windfall profits tax that would take a portion of companies’ profits and return them to the consumer with a direct payment.
Democrats certainly don’t regret their support of the U.S. sanctioning Russian oil, despite the result further spiking prices and damaging their approval with voters. But they are scrambling for ways to lower prices, including pursuing a windfall profits tax for oil companies.
“At a minimum, [a windfall profits tax] will make gas prices easier to bear for Americans because they will have money in their pocket to pay for excess profits that we still allow the fossil fuel industry to charge,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, told reporters at the Capitol.
Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats have leaned heavily into the notion that oil companies are price gouging. They point to remarks from oil executives to shareholders about plans to prioritize returning cash to investors and a survey last week from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas that showed the biggest reason fossil fuel firms say they’re not prioritizing increased production is because of investor pressure.
At a House hearing next week, Democrats will grill CEOs of six major energy companies about high gasoline prices.
“It’s time we get to the bottom of why oil companies are content to watch Americans suffer so that their shareholders and executives can reap enormous profits,” House Energy Chairman Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat, said in a statement.