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Vegas voters' inflation concerns

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Biden is celebrating a big anniversary today. A year ago, Democrats in Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act. It accounts for billions of dollars in spending on climate goals, and it cuts prices for prescription drugs. Now, polling shows that voters like the programs, but they aren't giving President Biden any credit for them. NPR's Deepa Shivaram joins us now to talk about this disconnect. Hi, Deepa.

DEEPA SHIVARAM, BYLINE: Hey there.

CHANG: OK, so I know that you've been on the road lately, talking to voters in Las Vegas. So just sort of broadly speaking, I'm curious - what did they tell you about how they're feeling towards President Biden, the economy? Give us a sense.

SHIVARAM: Yeah, a lot of what I heard from people in Las Vegas is the same thing of what I heard last November, when I was there covering the midterm elections. People are worried about the cost of living. They're worried about how much things cost - how much they have to spend just to get by. I spoke with a woman named Gaby Gama, and she told me she has a long list of things that she's concerned about right now.

GABY GAMA: The rent is really high. Groceries and just pretty much everything - gas - everything that we use on the daily is just very pricey.

SHIVARAM: And Gaby told me she's not sure who she's going to vote for in 2024. But she did say she voted for Biden last time, and she regrets it because of how she feels the economy has fared since he's been in office.

GAMA: It just seemed like it went that way to me - you know? - visually. It just seemed like, as soon as he took over, it was just kind of like, whoop (ph).

SHIVARAM: And when she said that, she took her hand and did, like, a downhill kind of motion with it.

CHANG: Yeah.

SHIVARAM: Eric Jorgensen is another voter I spoke with, and he's so far supporting former President Donald Trump.

ERIC JORGENSEN: For me, it's not about if you're a Democrat or a Republican. It's what's best for my pocketbook. And, the end of the day, I think the economy was doing much better during his time.

CHANG: His time meaning Trump's time, I imagine. Well...

SHIVARAM: Yeah.

CHANG: I mean, this is all really interesting because the economy - it actually seems to be improving, right? Like, for one thing, inflation is down substantially from where it was a year ago. So why aren't people giving Biden credit for that?

SHIVARAM: Yeah, it's complicated. I mean, when you look at different aspects of the Inflation Reduction Act, which is what Biden is celebrating today, like you mentioned - things like capping the cost of insulin, for example - that's something that's very tangible and very popular. People are supportive of this agenda, but they're not connecting it with this administration because polling shows that people don't approve of how the president is handling the economy. And Biden has said repeatedly there is a lot more work to do. He said today at the White House he's not going to take a victory lap.

But some places in the country, we have to keep in mind, are harder hit than others. Las Vegas was a city that was just decimated by the pandemic. The unemployment rate in Nevada is the highest in the country right now, so people there might not be seeing as much of this progress that Biden keeps talking about. And that's a problem for him because Nevada is one of a handful of swing states where the election will ultimately be determined.

CHANG: Right.

SHIVARAM: I talked to Rakeen Mabud. She's an economist with The Groundwork Collaborative, which is a left-leaning economic policy group. And she says that Biden should highlight that people are still really struggling, particularly people from marginalized groups.

RAKEEN MABUD: There's a lot more work to do. And it's OK to say that because, unless we acknowledge that people are in pain and they are continuing to struggle, I - you know, I don't think that that message will get heard.

CHANG: OK, well, then how will that message get heard? Like, what are the next moves for Biden to try to close this gap and connect with voters when it comes to the economy?

SHIVARAM: Well, the White House has pointed out that it'll take time for these investments to make a difference in people's daily lives. And so Biden and other administration officials have been traveling around the country trying to sell this message week after week. And when it comes to Nevada specifically, this is a state that Biden narrowly won in 2020. And Democrats held onto most of their seats there in the midterm elections, but it was really close.

CHANG: Yeah.

SHIVARAM: So the Biden campaign plans to put more focus there.

CHANG: OK, OK.

SHIVARAM: And just one example of that - this week in Las Vegas, there are new ads out for Biden both in English and Spanish, and they're targeting Black and brown voters trying to talk about how...

CHANG: OK.

SHIVARAM: ...The Inflation Reduction Act is lowering costs for Americans.

CHANG: That is NPR's Deepa Shivaram. Thank you, Deepa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.
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