Inflation or Invasion – The American Conscience versus the American Wallet

Russian troops continue to wage war on Ukrainians destroying homes and lives. But Americans have kind of lost interest in discussing war in a country many of them would struggle to find on a map. What really grinds Americans  gears is paying more for groceries and gas. Whether that’s just human nature,  an indication of American character,  or a tell that prices really are just-that-bad is up for debate. What is certain is that the news cycle has moved on. 

The chart below shows television news discussion by topic on a weekly basis. Peak Ukraine coverage occurred the week of March 6 and has declined since. Gas prices and inflation are the new front page stories. 

University of Michigan consumer sentiment numbers continue to fall. Grouping by political affiliation, it’s clear that political bias factors in but, even for self styled “political independents”, sentiment is easily worse than at any point in the past five years. So the economy is bad, or at least, that’s how Americans feel. But perhaps Americans are willing to put up with higher prices if it means standing behind their principles on the world stage. 

A final puzzle piece is presidential approval polls. Biden’s job rating has not improved since the beginning of the year. At the same time, more Americans approve than disapprove of the administration’s handling of the situation Ukraine, according to a Pew Research poll. Tragedies like what we’re seeing in Ukraine can often help in uniting the country. For an example, see President George Bush’s approval ratings following 9/11. So why haven’t we seen this with Biden? The core of the problem, if you’re Joe Biden, is that any popular policy move you make will be overshadowed if the economy is tanking. That’s probably the case in most countries, but definitely in the U.S. 

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