Week of 12/6: The economy

Josh Berezin, Lead Strategist

Summary: Each of four wide-ranging messages failed to improve approval ratings of Biden on the economy. 

This research was conducted in partnership with Strategic Victory Fund.

Background

Previous testing showed that none of the eight messages we tested in November were effective at changing people’s opinions about who to blame for rising prices. 

Since that past test, the infrastructure bill was signed into law and the Build Back Better bill advanced in Congress, though public polling hasn’t shown dramatic shifts in people’s perceptions of the economy.

We conducted another round of research on the economy, this time using messages and research we’ve encountered in the real world as inspiration. Several of the messages make reference to recent legislation or other events that could affect people’s perceptions of the economy.

Top Findings

Once again, people’s opinions about the economy proved hard to move. None of our messages significantly increased approval rates of how Biden has handled the economy. While some messages caused backlash effects among liberals, the message that identified big corporations as a villain was persuasive among young people, though it backfired among older people.

Audience Understanding Survey

On December 6th, we conducted an Audience Understanding Survey, asking 784 people the following question:

Do you approve or disapprove of how President Biden is handling the economy?

Overall approval was even with disapproval, but greater intensity was behind disapproval.

Attitudes about Biden’s performance on the economy were very similar to attitudes about Biden’s presidency generally. This presents some challenges for interpretation, since responses may not really reflect people’s experiences of the economy as much as their partisanship or overall presidential approval.

Responses to the open-ended questions on the survey often referred to the economy, but still seemed to be driven by overall impressions of Biden’s presidency. For instance, one response from someone who strongly disapproved read “He has done a terrible job. Inflation is rampant, stores are empty and people are unable to work due to his stupid and illegal mandates. He is a cognitive mess and should be retired,” while one strong approver said “He is handling the country very well the coronavirus is in here he’s encouraging people to get the vaccine and build back better is the best.” Each has a reference to the economy, but also seems to reflect general impressions as well. 

Rapid Message Test

We took a crowdsourced approach to generating messages, taking ideas and inspiration from research and messages we’d encountered while exploring this topic. Of course, we tested these messages only for their effect on Biden economy approval at a single point in time; these messages might have effects on attitudes that we didn’t measure, or might have worked better in the past than they did in our test. 

The messages we tested took a variety of approaches. “Made-up” contrasted Republicans’ persistent focus on the 2020 elections with Democrats’ work on the issues that really matter. “Unpredictable” lifted up hardworking people’s contributions during challenging times and made the case that the government should do more to support hardworking Americans. “Big corporations” sets up corporations as a villain and credits Biden with cracking down on their efforts to profiteer. “Billionaires” makes the case for Biden’s efforts to tax the rich to bring costs down on a range of necessities. See the appendix to read all the messages in full.

We recruited 1,044 respondents and randomly assigned each to one of the four messages, or a placebo, after which they were asked the same survey question as in the Audience Understanding Survey:

Do you approve or disapprove of how President Biden is handling the economy?

Results

On average, none of the messages was effective at changing opinions of Biden’s performance on the economy.

None of the messages significantly affected approval of Biden’s economic performance

Though there weren’t topline effects, there were some subgroup effects worth exploring. 

“Big corporations” appears to have increased approval rates among young people, while reducing approval among older people, along with two of our other messages.

Effects varied somewhat by age

Lastly, two of the messages — “Made-up” and “Billionaires” — decreased approval of Biden’s economic performance among people who identify as liberal. We don’t see similar effects among Democrats or people who report having voted for Biden in 2020, which raises the possibility that this is noise rather than actual opinion change. 

Some messages reduced approval among liberals

Overall, we didn’t find any message that was particularly effective at increasing approval of Biden’s performance on the economy, much like in our previous test. We continue to be open to trying new ideas for changing minds on the state of the economy.

Appendix

Messages

Made-up

While Republican legislatures are trying to distract and divide us over made-up concerns about the last election, Biden and Democrats are focusing on the issues that really matter: preventing COVID lockdowns, making healthcare and childcare more affordable, and increasing wages across the board. These are the efforts that will create a more balanced economy and help Americans thrive. 

Unpredictable

The past year has shown us that life is unpredictable. Through everything that’s happened, we have continued to work hard, provide for our families, and contribute to our communities. We’re producing the things this country needs and providing the services that keep our communities running. 

Hardworking Americans deserve gratitude for the sacrifices they’ve made to keep our country afloat for the past two years. 

Now we need the government to step up and provide what people need to create good, permanent jobs that provide security and stability for our families, with wages that keep up with rising costs and allow us to make ends meet. We’re doing our part by working hard. We need an economy where that hard work is respected and pays. 

Big corporations

Prices have gone up, but big corporations don’t mind — they make more money when prices are high! 

That’s why Biden is getting tough with big corporations who are creating false scarcity and driving up costs on Americans. If they’re going to leave shipping containers sitting at the port for weeks instead of loading them onto trucks, they’re going to get a fine. Let’s hope they can take a hint.

Billionaires

Billionaires can afford to go to space and buy superyachts while the rest of us are getting hit hard at the gas pump and grocery store? That’s not right. 

President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, now before Congress, will lower costs that have been too high for years — health care, child care, elder care, rent, prescriptions, college. 

And while corporate giants and billionaires get richer from the pandemic, they’re paying less and less of their fair share in taxes to help the rest of us to recover. Also not right. 

That’s why Build Back Better will make the wealthy and corporate giants pay their fair share to help lower your cost of living.

What we really can’t afford? For Congress to wait any longer.

Key experiment details
  • Audience: All adults, balanced on age, race, and gender
  • Geography: the United States
  • Sample size (raw / weighted): 1,044 / 1,044
  • Date in field: Wednesday, December 08, 2021
  • Weighting factors: age, race, gender, education, and party