Who’s to blame for record inflation? Here’s what we heard in a new poll

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U.S. inflation has been running at 40-year highs for months and Utahns are in wide agreement that the escalating prices of goods and services are a cause for concern.

But when it comes to assigning blame for higher costs, which have hit almost every sector of U.S. goods and services, a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll finds state residents are of a few minds on the issue.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, partisanship played a role in the survey of 804 registered voters conducted March 9-21 and a plurality of respondents, 33%, pointed the finger at the Democratic Party when asked “who or what is to blame for inflation.” Republicans fared much better, earning only 6% in the blame game, while the Federal Reserve was seen as slightly more liable at 8%. The prices and policies of corporate America were the source of inflation for 17% of poll participants and 23% believe higher costs can be tracked back to the economic fallout from COVID-19.

The poll results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.45 percentage points.

University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said he was not surprised by the variety of responses to the inflation question and noted the high number of Utahns who see Democrats as the source of the problem is reflective both of Utah state politics and a typical penchant among voters to blame the party in the White House for economic woes.

“The partisan response is not a big surprise,” Burbank said. “In a state with a solid Republican majority, you’d expect to see more Utahns saying (inflation) is the fault of the Democrats.

“And, through this period of rising inflation … Joe Biden has been president. It’s easier to assign the result to him even though we know that presidents aren’t necessarily responsible.”

Burbank noted it’s been years since inflationary increases have risen to a level of concern for the collective public and most of us simply have not been, until recently, thinking about the mechanics behind widespread consumer price increases.

Data collected before the economic fallout of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began rippling across the globe finds U.S. inflation shot up to 7.9% in February, the highest in four decades and mostly driven by big cost increases for basic necessities.

February inflation was even higher for consumers in the Mountain West states, which include Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming where the 12-month increase in prices hit a nation-leading 9.7%.

The latest Consumer Price Index report from the U.S. Department of Labor found increased prices in nearly every category, and costs for gas, food and shelter were “the largest contributors to the seasonally adjusted all items increase.”

Over the past 12 months, grocery prices are up 8.6%, gas is up 38% and housing costs rose 4.7% according to the new report.

All six major grocery store food group indexes increased in February. The index for fruits and vegetables had the largest increase, rising 2.3%, its largest monthly increase since March 2010. The index for fresh fruits increased 3.7% over the month, and the index for fresh vegetables rose 1.3 %. The index for dairy and related products rose 1.9%, its largest monthly increase since April 2011. And the index for nonalcoholic beverages increased 1.6% in February.

U.S. gasoline prices have been escalating since Russia launched its first military strikes on Ukraine on Feb. 24, and on Friday, Utah gas prices were at an all-time high of $4.43 per gallon, according to daily market data posted by AAA.

Even more voters, at a national level, believe Biden is to blame for the current U.S. economic challenges.

According to a new, nationwide poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, a majority of Americans say they don’t blame Biden for high gasoline prices, but they’re giving his economic leadership low marks amid fears of inflation and deep pessimism about economic conditions.

About 7 in 10 Americans say the nation’s economy is in bad shape, and close to two-thirds disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy, according to the poll. In addition, Americans are more likely to say his policies have hurt the economy than helped it.

Yet less than half say the jump in gas prices is Biden’s fault, a reflection of how the country is processing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting increase in oil costs.

Overall, Americans are more likely to say that higher than usual gas prices are more because of factors outside of Biden’s control than because of Biden’s policies, 55% to 44%.

Still, more think Biden’s policies are hurting the economy than helping it, 48% to 24%. Another 28% say they haven’t made much difference. The rejection comes after Biden steered a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package and $1 trillion infrastructure package through Congress, though his agenda on economic equity and clean energy stalled in Congress last December.

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