Editor’s note:Hank Naughton is the president of the Centrist Democrats of America and a former Massachusetts state legislator who chaired the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.
When our economy is strong, that typically correlates with the U.S. president having a good job approval rating. But even though the country added 431,000 jobs in March, and unemployment has hit a pandemic-era low of 3.6%, President Joe Biden’s favorability with the American people continually hovers in the low 40s — which isn’t good.
With the midterm elections looming this fall, a lot of Democrats are wondering what the president and his allies in Congress can do to restore trust with the American people. After all, unless President Biden’s poll numbers improve, it is more likely than not that Democrats will suffer serious losses this November, ceding the House and perhaps even the Senate back to Republican control.
One potential theory about why Mr. Biden is suffering from such low approval ratings, is the concern that the president, his administration and many Democrats are out of touch or focusing on the wrong issues. Or in other words, focusing on policies that prioritize the progressive elements of the Democratic Party, but are issues that most people either disagree with or simply don’t care much about.
For example, as the American people struggle with record high gasoline prices, the secretary of energy touted the importance of a recent $5 billion government investment in charging stations for electric vehicles, often called EVs. It’s not that EVs — over time — won’t play an important role in our effort to reduce our dependence on oil. It’s just that prioritizing EVs is not a lifeline for working-class Americans trying to make ends meet. After all, the cost of the average EV is nearly $52,000.
Looking closer at this issue, my organization just commissioned a poll on the attitudes of the American people on EVs. Unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, the poll found that most people are struggling with the price of fuel at the pump. We found that 91% of respondents are either “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about the high costs of gas and oil. Sadly, 44% of respondents said high gas prices are “making it hard to make ends meet.”
When we asked people how Congress should prioritize spending, issues that were most appealing were increased funding for “ending childhood hunger,” “fixing our roads and bridges,” and “for police training and hiring.” Coming in dead last among respondents: “More funding for increasing the number of electric vehicles.”
Here are some other key findings of the poll:
— Only 7% of respondents strongly support adding “an additional charge on people’s electrical bill to help fund the building of charging stations for electric vehicles.”
— Only 14% of the 1,000 respondents say they are “very likely” to purchase an EV in the next two years.
— For those not likely to buy an EV in the next two years or more, expense was the top concern.
— To get gas prices down, the most popular solutions are: “Temporarily stop charging state and federal taxes on gas,” “Increase the number of permits for drilling for oil and gas,” and the president’s recent decision to release gasoline from the strategic reserve was popular with just over half of the respondents.
— But to combat these high gas prices, only 26% of respondents think “we need to do whatever we can to get as many electric vehicles on the road as quickly as possible, including the federal government subsidizing the costs of the cars and building the infrastructure for charging stations.”
While Democrats are struggling today, the good news is that the American people are not hiding the issues that they prioritize and find meaningful. There is abundant polling out there that shows strengthening the economy, confronting inflation, and the pandemic and the cost of health care are issues that are at the top of people’s minds.
As the leader of a group advocating for politically moderate policies, I urge the Biden administration and congressional Democrats to listen to the voters and focus on their priorities. If Democrats respond to the needs of the nation, then I think we can both do well in the midterms, but more importantly, help our fellow Americans make ends meet during these challenging times.
Hank Naughton is the president of the Centrist Democrats of America and a former Massachusetts state legislator who chaired the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. This commentary was provided to the News-Press by The Center Square, a nonprofit dedicated to journalism.