Finance

As Voters Grappled With Rising Prices, Inflation News Captured More Attention Than Strong Jobs Reports

Morning Consult analysis of news events that resonated with voters showed wallet-busters like gas prices, student loan debt were top of mind in 2022

(Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Kelly Rice)

This article is part of our annual Seen Read Heard project measuring real-time media consumption of over 800 news events among more than 200,000 Americans. See our interactive for a curated list of the newsworthy developments of 2022, including many that resonated deeply with Americans — and some that didn’t.

Read More Seen Read Heard Coverage: Series Home Page | Analyzing The News That Broke Through 2022 | Global: Ukraine War Dominates 2022’s Global Headlines | Health: COVID-19 News Strong But Roe v. Wade Captures Most Interest | Energy: Hurricanes and Gasoline Prices 

 

It was a peculiar year for the U.S. economy, as stubbornly high inflation and gasoline prices sapped consumers’ wallets throughout 2022, and at the same time, the country avoided a recession and workers reaped the benefits of a tight labor market

According to a new Morning Consult analysis, voters were much more likely to be tuned in to worrisome news about rising prices than headlines about gains in the U.S. job market. And while it’s said that bad news travels fast, the electorate’s interest in prices also squares with Morning Consult research showing that the cost of living drives voters’ perception of the economy overall.

Voters Kept a Closer Watch on Rising Inflation Than Strong Jobs Data

The share of registered voters who said they had seen, read or heard “a lot” about the following:

Surveys conducted on a weekly basis throughout 2022 among a representative sample of roughly 2,000 registered voters each, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

For voters, positive jobs reports were overshadowed by negative inflation stories

  • In the first 10 months of 2022, each monthly report of the consumer price index showed rising inflation — a news item that is a decidedly negative outcome for consumers. Meanwhile, employment data in each month during that time frame showed strong gains in nonfarm payrolls, generally a positive for the economy and workers in aggregate. 
  • However, voters were more likely to have seen “a lot” about consumer prices news over jobs news in the first 10 months of the year. Even record-setting employment news didn’t break through; in August, for instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that seven states had all-time record low unemployment rates in July. Yet fewer than 1 in 5 voters in August said they had seen, read or heard “a lot” about July job figures. 
  • Voters’ attention to prices makes sense given how they think about the health of the economy. Morning Consult research has found that when it comes to assessing the current state of the U.S. economy, the cost of necessities is especially influential, with 80% of voters saying food prices play a major role, followed by inflation (79%) and gasoline prices (75%). Morning Consult economist Jesse Wheeler noted that consumer prices affect everyone, while unemployment rates only affect those directly impacted by joblessness.
Rising Gas Prices, Student Loan Forgiveness Were the Economic Stories That Broke Through Most to Voters in 2022

The share of registered voters who said they had seen, read or heard “a lot” about the following economy and finance news stories:

Footnote: The share of voters who said they heard “a lot” about inflation represents an average of 10 separate surveys on monthly consumer price index news; the share who heard news about the U.S. economy’s added jobs represents the average of nine separate surveys on monthly hiring data news, and the share for falling gas prices averaged five separate survey questions regarding news about the price of a gallon of gasoline falling.
Surveys conducted on a weekly basis throughout 2022 among a representative sample of roughly 2,000 registered voters each, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

Gasoline prices, inflation news and student loans commanded the most attention among economic headlines in 2022

  • In a Sept. 30-Oct. 1 survey, 48% of voters said they had heard “a lot” about rising fuel prices, but news headlines of falling gasoline prices had less horsepower, with just 19% of voters on average indicating they had heard “a lot” about cheaper prices at the pump. Gas prices were especially salient in the months leading up to the midterm elections, with politicians well aware that higher fuel prices would be top of mind for voters. 
  • Other cost-of-living issues topped the list of finance news items that broke through the most among voters, with 37% on average saying they had seen, read or heard “a lot” about consumer price index news. President Joe Biden’s signing of the Inflation Reduction Act into law, meanwhile, reached 36% of voters.  
  • Another wallet-buster for millions of Americans — monthly student loan payments — captured the attention of voters in 2022. The Biden administration’s announcement of a plan to forgive $10,000 to $20,000 of federal student loans for some borrowers ranked high on the list of economic news for voters, with 43% saying they had seen, read or heard “a lot” about the August announcement. 

Surveys conducted on a weekly basis throughout 2022 among a representative sample of roughly 2,000 registered voters each, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.