President Joe Biden and his many defenders have a penchant for blaming the many catastrophes that have happened on his watch on somebody or something else. Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, China, the Taliban, MAGA Republicans and greedy corporations. Take your pick.
According to the commander in chief, he bears no responsibility for the past 26 months.
The buck apparently doesn’t stop in the Biden Oval Office.
But when it comes to the economy, and, in particular, inflation, Biden can’t run away from reality. According to the Winston Group’s “Winning the Issues” survey (conducted March 1-3), 54 percent of people believe “Government policies under President Biden and Democrats in Congress have caused inflation to increase and prices to go up,” while only 30 percent didn’t believe that statement.
But Biden keeps trying to sell his economic policies as successful to an increasingly skeptical public. On Tuesday, he tried to sugarcoat the 6 percent Consumer Price Index number in a White House statement without mentioning the actual number.
“Today’s report shows annual inflation is down by a third from this summer at a time when the unemployment rate remains near a 50-year low. That is the slowest annual increase since September 2021. I will continue working to lower costs for hard-working Americans so they have a little more breathing room at the end of the month,” the president said in a statement.
Technically, inflation has come down — going from a 40-year high of 9 percent down to 6 percent. That is roughly a third, but wages aren’t keeping up, and people are certainly not breathing easier.
With the president and his team spinning the CPI numbers, perhaps it’s time for a different statistical take on his “progress” — by looking at the CPI not just month-to-month or even year-over-year but through a kind of data-based “report card,” what we call the “Presidential Inflation Rate,” or PIR.
This new way of looking at inflation is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ price index, the basis for the monthly CPI report. According to the CPI, “price data are collected via two surveys: one survey collects prices for commodities and services and the other survey collects prices for rent. … The CPI survey collects about 94,000 prices per month to compute indexes for commodities and services.”
From the collected data, BLS creates the CPI Index number for the cost of goods, services and rent. It then compares that index number with the same number from the year before to determine the CPI percentage change year-over-year. Tuesday’s inflation number was 6 percent.
The “Presidential Inflation Rate,” developed by the Winston Group, is a different indicator. It measures a president’s progress in handling inflation over time, from their inauguration month to the month of the most recent CPI report. For Biden, we used the CPI price index for January 2021, when Biden took office, and compared it to the price index in the most current CPI report (February 2023) — or 26 months into his term.
The percent difference between the two index points gives us Biden’s “Presidential Inflation Rate,” the overall increase in the level of inflation at this point in his term — 15 percent.
That means overall prices have increased by 15 percent since he was sworn in. Some context is in order to understand Biden’s record of dealing with inflation versus the records of other recent presidents.
We did the same PIR analysis for Presidents Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter by comparing the CPI index in their inaugural months with the index at the same point in their terms, 26 months. Here’s what we found.
At this same point, there were significant differences in the PIR between Biden and former presidents — both overall and within subgroups of commodities and services. The lower the PIR, the better each president did in handling inflation. Of the seven previous presidents, only Carter had a higher rate of price increases, coming in at 18.1 percent overall.
After Carter, every president has had a lower inflation rate at this point, and the last three scored under Biden by more than 10 percent.
Looking at some key subcategories of costs, there are some significant differences, starting with food prices. Since the beginning of Biden’s presidency, prices have gone up 18.3 percent, with, again, only Carter having a higher inflation rate at this point in his presidency. Five of the six other presidents had rates that were 10 percent lower than Biden’s — or more.
As an example of one key item, in the post-CPI reporting this week, there was a laser focus on the price of eggs, which has soared past even historic levels. In the case of every president but one, since Carter, the cost of a dozen eggs went down. Biden’s PIR for this family staple is 79.6 percent. Only one other president, George H.W. Bush, saw the price of eggs up at this point in his presidency, but his PIR was still much lower, at 12 percent.
Since Biden took office, energy prices have gone up 37.2 percent. This is the largest increase of any of the past seven presidents, and four of them were 30 percent or more lower. Additionally, Biden’s 24 percent “Presidential Inflation Rate” for rising electricity costs is higher than any of the previous seven presidents, which is alarming for someone who is pushing the country into an all-electric environment.
It’s a similar story with skyrocketing housing costs, especially rents. The CPI reported rents increased by 0.8 percent in February and 8.8 percent year-over-year, a record 42-year high. Biden’s own PIR for rent hit 13.5 percent over the past 26 months, a level exceeded only by Carter and Reagan at the height of the economic crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
With the economy still voters’ top issue, its dominance driven by inflation, Democrats ought to be concerned with both the latest CPI report and the sluggish record on the economy that Biden’s “Presidential Inflation Rate” reflects. Neither are positive. Contrasting the records of two other Democratic presidents, both Obama and Clinton easily outperformed Biden, as did the last four Republican presidents.
The data shows this is not a partisan argument.
David Winston is the president of The Winston Group and a longtime adviser to congressional Republicans. He previously served as the director of planning for Speaker Newt Gingrich. He advises Fortune 100 companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and public policy issues, as well as serving as an election analyst for CBS News.