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The problem with the ‘Bidenomics’ sales pitch

President Biden hasn’t yet started holding rallies focused on his reelection bid, certainly in part because he faces little serious competition for the Democratic Party’s nomination. (No, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is not at this point serious competition, nor is he likely to be.) But that does not mean that he is not campaigning.

Sitting presidents enjoy a privileged position in presidential campaigns. They can gin up media attention almost at will and use that attention to support issues or arguments that benefit their candidacies. Depending on your view of the president, this is either a regrettable abuse of the position or a natural opportunity to convey the administration’s successes. Either way, it’s a form of campaigning.

Biden’s use of this approach is pretty obvious. In recent weeks, for example, the administration has embraced the once-pejorative term “Bidenomics” as a way to talk about the unexpected resilience of the economy in the wake of the constraints imposed by the pandemic. His campaign even produced an ad in which his economic agenda was described using words by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) — one’s she meant as insulting but which Biden embraced.

New polling from CBS News, conducted by YouGov, reveals one potential downside to running with “Bidenomics” as a summarizing concept: About half the country thinks the term includes tax increases — despite no such increases having been implemented. It’s a reminder that perceptions of the economy and economic actions are often more deeply rooted in politics than reality.

That poll found a difference between Republicans and Democrats in familiarity with the term “Bidenomics,” with 17 percent of Republicans saying they’d heard a lot about it. Only 11 percent of Democrats said the same. About another 30 percent of each group said they’d heard at least “some” about it.

Why have Republicans heard more about it? While not every Republican watches Fox News — in fact, relatively few do — it is the case that the right-wing cable channel was more likely to mention “Bidenomics” in the past two months than its two primary competitors. Fox News mentioned the term four times as often as CNN, perhaps in part because of its roots as an insult.

The CBS-YouGov poll also asked people what they thought of when they heard the term. Here, there were wide gaps by party. In general, any negative association was more common with Republicans and positive associations with Democrats.

Perhaps most notable? That three-quarters of Republicans associated “Bidenomics” with “tax increases.”

This is telling because, unlike increases in inflation, there haven’t been any tax increases under Biden’s administration. There was a corporate increase for businesses with more than $1 billion in income, but it’s likely that wasn’t at the forefront of the respondents’ concerns. Biden proposed increasing taxes for those earning $400,000 or more annually, but that increase was not implemented.

It’s fair to note that “Bidenomics” is not cleanly bounded. The White House wants to use it in a positive sense, to refer to policies that it argues have kept employment strong (despite the disconnect between executive action and the job market) and held recession at bay. His critics, though, are happy to use the term the way they always have, as a shorthand for what he generally wants to do, a framing that includes unpopular proposals and negative effects for which, again, Biden doesn’t necessarily have a lot of responsibility.

It is also fair to note that Fox News has talked about Bidenomics in the context of taxes more than its competitors, although still relatively infrequently.

More common is the association that led the associations in the YouGov poll, overlapping “Bidenomics” with “inflation.”

But some part of this is certainly downstream from little more than perceptions.

I’m reminded of an article I wrote in 2018, considering whether Americans were yet aware of tax cuts signed into law by Donald Trump the previous December. About 1 in 5 Democrats said they’d seen more take-home pay thanks to a decrease in payroll taxes. Among independents, the percentage was the same.

Among Republicans, though? More than half had seen the cuts.

Economics is rooted in numbers and experienced as an emotion. The Biden campaign-without-campaigning effort to own “Bidenomics” as a descriptor of his successes is hindered in part by Republican framing and in part by a predictable tendency to view his presidency in negative terms.

But it isn’t all partisan. More than half of independents also associate Bidenomics with tax increases. Given that, it may almost be time for the president to start campaigning in earnest.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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