There’s been a lot of talk about how 9% inflation has become Americans’ top concern. But there’s been far less discussion about how high gas prices, for example, are affecting day-to-day lives, especially over the summer travel period. On July 12, we asked 14 Wisconsin swing voters—who voted for Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020—to describe how they are adapting to higher prices.
One respondent, Sebastian, 26, from Kenosha, has significantly changed his typical travel schedule this summer. He says, “I drove 7,000 miles on road trips last summer, and this summer I haven’t really done any outside of the state.” In a similar fashion, Jamie, 36, from Green Bay said that she has been avoiding long trips and “trying to figure out ways to do them locally instead.”
Two told us about limiting local car trips. Lisa, 59, from Appleton, said, “I combine a lot of my trips now instead of just running out for just one thing.” She added: My mom needs help two hours away from me, and I used to go weekly, sometimes [twice a week]. And now it’s every two weeks. I really try to condense it.”
Another respondent, Joseph, 40, from Van Dyne, agreed with Lisa, and added that his family “now has decided … when we go in town, when we go to church, that’s when we’ll do our grocery shopping. So, we only make one trip.” Saving money on gas even when driving for necessities has become a priority for these two respondents.
Joseph also noted, “I actually had to cancel my planned vacation to Tennessee just because of the gas prices, because to drive out there is going to be extremely expensive.” It’s not just driving. April, 41, from Racine, observed, “The flight prices are crazy.” While unaffordable gasoline is forcing these swing voters to remain local, it’s not as though remaining at home is itself affordable. Of the 14 respondents, 12 believe that housing is not affordable in their neighborhoods, and 13 believe that there is a shortage of reasonably priced housing.
When asked if homes in their area were affordable to buy, Melissa, 43, from Appleton quipped, “not unless it’s a foreclosure.” To which Jamie laughed and added, “and then everybody’s fighting and overbidding anyway. Nothing’s going for what it’s listed before. It’s going above.”
It’s not just owning a home that is becoming less affordable. Rental prices are also rising drastically. Melissa offered some insight as to the growing rent issues around the country, but specifically in Wisconsin. She says, “I’m a landlord, too, and I had to just recently increase rent. I’m not happy about it, but with the cost and interest rates right now—it wasn’t much, I’m a good landlord—but I feel horrible.” Philip, 60, from Madison, was the only renter in the group. He complained that his rent is going up by 16%.
Filling up the refrigerator is another concern. While Lisa and Joseph have started running their errands in one trip to save money on gas, they are still faced with inflated prices in the grocery store. The most common foods that the respondents have noticed they pay more for these days are eggs, dairy products, and meat. Diana, 61, from Union Grove, noted, “just about everything has doubled in price.”
Diana was far from alone in her opinion. Joseph, in response to being asked what goods he is paying more for, added, “all dairy: cheese, eggs, milk. I mean, I think Diana hit it. I haven’t seen anything that hasn’t gone up for any type of food item I purchase, and not only food items, but then you look at like your laundry detergents or your water softeners, like all that. Everything has gone up.”
When asked which goods she has been cutting to save money, Tracy, 54, from Eau Claire, said: “I think like snack foods, like anything that’s extra, you know, you have a budget. So, the things that you don’t really need are the ones that get omitted.”
Inflation’s impact on day-to-day lives remains considerable. As for its impact on the November elections, that story has yet to be written.
Rich Thau is the president of Engagious, Inc. His company is the industry leader in scientifically testing and refining the effectiveness of business and issue-advocacy content, moment-to-moment. The firm helps its clients become more successful by applying the power of behavioral science and social psychology to dial test focus groups.
Thau is also the moderator of the high-profile Swing Voter Project, which Engagious conducts in partnership with Axios. Each month, Thau moderates focus groups with “Trump-Biden” swing voters to probe on attitudes towards policies debated in Washington. Axios covers the focus groups first, and then Thau regularly comments on CNN and Sirius XM’s POTUS channel.