President Biden’s economic woes have largely been tied to inflation, with his lowest approval ratings coinciding with surging gas prices over the summer.
While Biden has so far been able to dodge blame for the recent stock market declines in the wake of interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve, Republicans are increasingly tying the faltering markets to the White House, warning Americans not to vote for Democrats in November’s midterm election if they value their portfolios.
“The stock market has plummeted below where it was when President Biden took office, cutting the value of America’s retirement savings just as the cost of living has soared,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “Consumer prices [are] through the roof, supply chain chaos left and right — the worst single year for both grocery and electricity inflation since back in the Jimmy Carter era.”
Major stock indices entered a bear market this week, marking a 20-percent decline off highs earlier this year before rallying on Wednesday.
Stock markets rallied on Wednesday with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining more than 500 points. But several major stock indices have entered bear markets, marking a 20-percent decline off highs earlier this year before rallying on Wednesday.
The S&P 500 index has fallen more than 22 percent since January, and the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite is down about 30 percent on the year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 29,683 on Wednesday, down 19.3 percent from 36,800 in January.
Stocks are falling because the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates to bring down inflation, which is still above 8 percent on an annual basis. Interest rate hikes make financing more expensive and generally slow activity throughout the economy.
Core inflation rose 0.6 percent in August, doubling what economists had been expecting and making it more likely that rate hikes will continue.
“This is a policy-induced bear market,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said on Capitol Hill Wednesday. “It’s a policy-induced recession that we’re moving into. It is a policy-induced time of significant inflation.”
The Republican National Committee this week bashed Biden for the Dow Jones’ recent poor performance, noting that when the president took office, it was at 31,188, and when markets closed on Monday, it was 29,260.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said that it will take six months for markets to process further interest rate hikes from the Fed, voice common GOP predictions that economic conditions will be on the top of voters’ minds in November.
“The Fed is going to be up to 4, 4-and-a-quarter [percent] by the end of the year, and it will take the markets about six months to react to it. All the indicators, in my non-economist opinion, say that we’re in a recession this time next year,” Tillis said. “We can talk about all these red herrings and campaign maneuvers to move voters, but at the end of the day people are going to make a pocketbook decision.”
Republicans’ efforts to tether Biden to the stock market come as the president has consistently seen poor polling over high inflation. Only 40 percent of Americans surveyed in a recent poll said they approve of his handling of the economy, and only 30 percent approved of his handling of the high cost of living.
Pressed on the markets falling, the White House has argued that Wall Street is just one measure of the U.S. economy.
“We are always watching these different indicators closely, including the stock market,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Friday. “It’s also important to look at what’s happening on Main Street. This is something that we think is important, as you’ve heard us talk about, to also look at.”
The White House’s lack of focus on the stock market is a huge distinction from former President Trump, who mentioned it throughout his presidency, taking credit for the highs while brushing off the dips.
In November 2020, when the stock market surpassed 30,000 points, Trump made a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room to celebrate the high and attempt to take ownership of it.
He would also frequently point to the stock market’s performance as a sign of his own economic expertise and his administration’s pro-business policies. In his farewell address in January 2021, the former president highlighted gains, saying, “the stock market set one record after another” under his administration and that 401(K) retirement plans reached new highs.
Political experts, however, are less eager in general to tie the stock market directly to the president.
“While the economy is always the No. 1 issue for voters, there’s little historical correlation between stock market returns and election returns,” said Bruce Mehlman, former assistant secretary at the Commerce Department under President George W. Bush. “Inflation and the price of gas, unemployment and consumer confidence have proved more predictive.”
Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, former chief economist at Commerce under President Obama, said that stock market valuations fluctuate due to various factors aside from politics.
“I think casting aspersions based on short-term stock price volatility doesn’t really make any sense to me. I think there’s so many different elements that are unrelated to whatever the politics of the day might be,” she said. “Just taking a myopic view and saying this is because of what the Biden administration has done, it just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Hughes-Cromwick, a senior resident fellow at the Democratic think tank Third Way, also noted that most major stock indices are up well over 50 percent from the market crash low at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You got to bear in mind, they’re up 63 percent since the onset of COVID. And we’re up 8 percent from the peak just before COVID. So that’s not bad. I would, I’ll take that return any day,” she said.
She added, “I just think it’s a fool’s errand to think that you can make a big deal about short term moves and in equities.”