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How has surging inflation gripped voters ahead of the midterms?

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Surging inflation is bad news for US President Joe Biden ahead of the midterms, as voters usually direct frustration over economic issues at the president and party in power./AFP
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Oct 28, 2022 - 04:00 AM

WASHINGTON — Surging consumer prices are far and away the top voter concern in upcoming US midterm elections, beating out worries about crime and abortion as households feel the squeeze from pricier food, shelter and services.

And that’s bad news for President Joe Biden and his Democrats as frustration and anger with negative economic issues like rising inflation is normally directed at the president and the party in power.

A Monmouth University Poll released this month named inflation as chief among Americans’ concerns, with the share of respondents who rated it extremely important spiking from 37 percent in September to 46 percent in October.

Here are some ways in which stubbornly high prices have taken hold of voters, days ahead of the November 8 elections:

Food and fuel 

Grocery prices are up 13 percent on average from last year, shaken by the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Covid-19 disruptions and a surge in processing and transportation fees, said David Ortega, associate professor at Michigan State University.

The cost of wheat flour has jumped 24 percent with the price of bread surging as well, while poultry and eggs became more costly after avian flu ravaged commercial suppliers.

“Things like turkey, heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, are going to be much more expensive,” he told AFP.

“It definitely puts this issue of inflation front and center in consumers’ minds,” he added.

Poorer households tend to be the hardest-hit as they spend a bigger portion of their incomes on food, and this has repercussions at the ballot box.

Voters earning less than $50,000 accounted for 38 percent of the vote in the 2018 midterms and 35 percent of the vote in 2020, a Brookings report this year noted.

Americans are also particularly sensitive to fuel costs, with confidence in the economy and country’s direction tracking the rise and fall in prices.

While gas prices have trended down recently, they remain 18.8 percent higher than a year ago.

Shelter 

But inflation is not felt just in food and energy costs.

A key measure of consumer prices excluding both volatile categories surged to a 40-year high in September, underscoring the broader pressures that Americans face.

Housing prices have gone up, and the costs of rental and other related expenses make up nearly a third of overall inflation.

Although the median sales price of existing homes has been edging down, they remain higher than in recent years, National Association of Realtors data showed.

In both August and September, the median figures were 8.4 percent above last year.

Coupled with elevated mortgage rates, on the back of aggressive Federal Reserve rate hikes, home ownership has become a more distant prospect for many.

“Whether you’re dealing with actual cost of a home or the rental equivalent, those numbers have seen double-digit gains over the last couple of years,” CFRA chief investment strategist Sam Stovall told AFP.

That has priced many first-time homebuyers out of the market and forced them to continue forking out higher rents.

In August, renters of typical household income spent more than a quarter of their earnings on leasing a home, according to data from Realtor.com.

Services 

Costs associated with services have gone up too, given their close ties to wage growth.

Prices of food away from home rose 8.5 percent from a year ago, maintaining an elevated pace of growth on a monthly basis, Labor Department data showed.

This comes as the job market remains tight with low unemployment levels and businesses struggling to fill positions.

“With people… jumping from one job to the next, we’re seeing an increase in wages and that too is contributing to inflation,” Stovall said.

Half of the workers who changed jobs from April 2021 to March 2022 saw a real increase of 9.7 percent or more over their pay a year earlier, said a Pew Research Center report released in July.

While supply bottlenecks have eased from earlier in the pandemic, those hoping that a price drop in goods would offset increases elsewhere may be disappointed.

Analysts note that many companies continue to maintain their higher prices.

All of these weigh on consumers, with today’s inflation levels unheard of for those below age 40, said Farrokh Langdana of Rutgers Business School.

“For so many people, this is like a new phenomenon,” he said.

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