It was a peculiar year for the U.S. economy, as stubbornly high inflation and gasoline prices sapped consumers’ wallets throughout 2022, and at the same time, the country avoided a recession and workers reaped the benefits of a tight labor market.
According to a new Morning Consult analysis, voters were much more likely to be tuned in to worrisome news about rising prices than headlines about gains in the U.S. job market. And while it’s said that bad news travels fast, the electorate’s interest in prices also squares with Morning Consult research showing that the cost of living drives voters’ perception of the economy overall.
Voters Kept a Closer Watch on Rising Inflation Than Strong Jobs Data
For voters, positive jobs reports were overshadowed by negative inflation stories
- In the first 10 months of 2022, each monthly report of the consumer price index showed rising inflation — a news item that is a decidedly negative outcome for consumers. Meanwhile, employment data in each month during that time frame showed strong gains in nonfarm payrolls, generally a positive for the economy and workers in aggregate.
- However, voters were more likely to have seen “a lot” about consumer prices news over jobs news in the first 10 months of the year. Even record-setting employment news didn’t break through; in August, for instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that seven states had all-time record low unemployment rates in July. Yet fewer than 1 in 5 voters in August said they had seen, read or heard “a lot” about July job figures.
- Voters’ attention to prices makes sense given how they think about the health of the economy. Morning Consult research has found that when it comes to assessing the current state of the U.S. economy, the cost of necessities is especially influential, with 80% of voters saying food prices play a major role, followed by inflation (79%) and gasoline prices (75%). Morning Consult economist Jesse Wheeler noted that consumer prices affect everyone, while unemployment rates only affect those directly impacted by joblessness.
Rising Gas Prices, Student Loan Forgiveness Were the Economic Stories That Broke Through Most to Voters in 2022
Gasoline prices, inflation news and student loans commanded the most attention among economic headlines in 2022
- In a Sept. 30-Oct. 1 survey, 48% of voters said they had heard “a lot” about rising fuel prices, but news headlines of falling gasoline prices had less horsepower, with just 19% of voters on average indicating they had heard “a lot” about cheaper prices at the pump. Gas prices were especially salient in the months leading up to the midterm elections, with politicians well aware that higher fuel prices would be top of mind for voters.
- Other cost-of-living issues topped the list of finance news items that broke through the most among voters, with 37% on average saying they had seen, read or heard “a lot” about consumer price index news. President Joe Biden’s signing of the Inflation Reduction Act into law, meanwhile, reached 36% of voters.
- Another wallet-buster for millions of Americans — monthly student loan payments — captured the attention of voters in 2022. The Biden administration’s announcement of a plan to forgive $10,000 to $20,000 of federal student loans for some borrowers ranked high on the list of economic news for voters, with 43% saying they had seen, read or heard “a lot” about the August announcement.
Surveys conducted on a weekly basis throughout 2022 among a representative sample of roughly 2,000 registered voters each, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.