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Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro leads the celebration of the 22nd anniversary of late President Hugo Chavez's return to power after a failed coup attempt in 2002, in Caracas, Venezuela April 13, 2024

REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez

Biden reimposes sanctions on Venezuela*

The Biden administrationannounced this week it will reimpose oil sector sanctions on Venezuela because President Nicolas Maduro’s government has backed away from a commitment to hold a free and fair presidential election this year.

The US lifted sanctions six months ago, but Maduro’s government has since banned opposition leader Maria Corina Machado from running for president and blocked her chosen replacement from running too.

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US President Joe Biden delivers remarks at United Steel Workers headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US, April 17, 2024.

REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

Dems push on hot-button election issues

President Joe Biden used a meeting in Pennsylvania with United Steel Workers on Wednesday to call for a tripling of steel tariffs on China. Trade representative Katherine Tai, in response to a petition from the union, also announced an investigation of unfair trade practices in China’s shipbuilding industry.

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Jess Frampton

Secret sauce of the boom: immigration

The riddle of recovery: Is the economy broken, or is it booming? And is there a secret accelerant no elected official wants to talk about?

Turns out, how folks perceive the economy is often tied more closely to how they vote than to reality. Donald Trump's supporters argue the economy is a disaster of debt and inflation, made worse by an immigration nightmare playing out at the borders. To prove their case, they wander into the Cherry Orchard of Convenient Stats and pick a few choice numbers to make their case.

  • US debt has passed $34 trillion and will exceed the dangerous 99% debt-to-GDP ratio.
  • Between 60%-78% of US households are living paycheck to paycheck, depending on the survey.
  • Credit card debt has hit record levels, with 50% of consumers unable to pay off their monthly bills.
  • Food prices are going up even as inflation is down, rising over 2.2% from last year, according to the Consumer Price Index.
  • Big layoffs are hitting the tech, financial, retail, media, and energy sectors.
  • Home affordability: Most people with an average income can no longer afford a home, which in most cities now requires an income of over $100,000.

The harvest from that side looks rotten. But walk over to the Joe Biden side of the Cherry Orchard of Convenient Stats, and things look pretty darn good:

  • Post-pandemic, the US has been the fastest-growing economy in the G7.
  • Job growth is shattering expectations with over 353,000 jobs in January, and unemployment is under 4%.
  • Inflation has fallen to 3.2% from over 9% two years ago.
  • Real wage growth is way up.
  • The stock market is on a bull run.

Overall, it’s a pretty tasty harvest, if that’s all you pick.

Still, Gallup’s famed Economic Confidence Index – though ticking up a bit last month – is shockingly negative, revealing most Americans think things are bad. So consumers are doing boom-like things, like spending, while perceiving bust-like things – and complaining.

Plenty has been written about the lens of partisanship distorting economic reality: People believe the economy is bad, just not for THEM! “It’s now a well-established fact that partisan orientation affects expressed views about the economy,” economist Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times. “Democrats are more positive when a Democrat holds the White House; Republicans are more positive when the president is a Republican … but the partisan effect on sentiment is two and a half times as large for Republicans as it is for Democrats.” Krugman argues that this so-called “asymmetric amplification” accounts for 30% of the “gap between economic sentiment and economic fundamentals.”

There is, however, a reality that should not be wiped aside: The post-pandemic recovery for some has not been post-pandemic recovery for all. “I think the old name for this was ‘K-shaped recovery,’ the idea that different parts of the country are experiencing vastly different conditions,” Robert Kahn, the global head of macrogeoeconomics at Eurasia Group, told me. “Rising numbers living paycheck to paycheck or getting squeezed by high debt. Conversely, many still cash flush from pandemic support/policies.”

The K-shaped recovery also means that while, say, the stock market is booming, there are painful layoffs in sectors across the economy, like tech, finance, media, and retail. When Nike is slashing $2 billion dollars, people start to notice.

Sure, some of this is a correction from over-hiring in recent years, and some might be the impact of AI, but combine that with debt levels, worries about commercial real estate, and layoffs, and you see this could be a ... Special-K kind of recovery. There is a lot of optimistic froth covering some big pain points.

But there is a deeply inconvenient political truth here: Things would be much worse for everyone without the single most controversial, politically radioactive issue: immigration.

Trump is making his entire campaign about immigration, and his fiery rhetoric about it – he recently called illegal immigrants “animals” – is now a staple. So he is not about to discuss the benefits of immigration.

Even in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has presided over massive increases in immigration levels, is now saying temporary immigration – foreign workers and international students – needs to be brought “under control.” This week he admitted it has “grown at a rate far beyond what Canada has been able to absorb.” Okay…

The thing is, immigration likely saved the economy and continues to do so. “The US let in about 3 million additional people last year,” my colleague Jon Lieber, head of research at EG, told me. “That puts downward pressure on wages and is a source of new consumer spending. There are some economists who attribute the continuing strength of the American economy to this factor.”

To dig deeper – and what GZERO reader doesn’t like to dig deeper? – it’s worth checking out the analysis done by Ernie Tedeschi, the former chief economist for the White House Council of Economic Advisers. “Immigration since the pandemic has strongly bolstered US labor supply and employment,” Tedeschi wrote. “The US economy is 8.2% larger in inflation-adjusted terms than just before the pandemic. Of this, 1.6 percentage points – about a fifth of US post-2019 growth – can be accounted for directly by foreign-born workers.”

Well, that isn’t something you hear about very much on the campaign trail. Immigration is the super-charge factor of the economy? “Politically, this is pretty ironic,” says Lieber, “if the immigration crisis that is weighing on Biden’s approval rating is actually saving the US economy.”

Is it naïve to think that citizens could one day turn to their politicians to get the facts straight about the economy – or admit that some of the very things they are demonizing and running against are the things that are boosting the economy and saving their political hides?

That’s likely the biggest riddle of this recovery story.

– Evan Solomon, Publisher

Pro-choice activists attend a demonstration at the Supreme Court as it hears oral arguments in a case that could end access to the medication abortion, Washington, DC, March 26, 2024.

Allison Bailey/Reuters

SCOTUS vs. abortion pill

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday in a case over whether to limit access to mifepristone, one of two drugs used in medication abortion.

It’s the first abortion case before the high court since its conservative majority overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. And it has major potential ramifications: 63% of all US abortions last year used mifepristone.

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Jess Frampton

Bloodbaths vs. Patriots

In the traffic jam of elections that is 2024 – there are over 50 this year worldwide – the US is still the BelAZ 75710 mega hauler of elections, the biggest rig that carries more payload than any other on the political road. So when it tips over, it’s impossible to ignore. Everything matters about the US 2024 election, and we have to stay within the nonpartisan lines to avoid veering off-road.

So after Donald Trump gave a fiery speech in Ohio last weekend about an impending “bloodbath” if he’s not elected, it’s worth sorting through the carnage of coverage to see what he meant. “Now, if I don’t get elected, it’s going to be a bloodbath for the whole…” he said. “That’s going to be the least of it, it’s going to be a bloodbath for the country. That’ll be the least of it.”

Did he mean another civil war, as some thought? Or, more plausibly and as his campaign has claimed, did he say it in the context of the auto industry and his concerns about high tariffs from China and Mexico?

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President Joe Biden speaks to the press before boarding Air Force One at Hagerstown Regional Airport in Hagerstown, Maryland, on March 5, 2024.

REUTERS/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/File Photo

State of the Elephant downstairs

US President Joe Biden takes the podium tonight for his annual State of the Union address to Congress. Ahead of what will almost certainly be an epic electoral rematch against Donald Trump this fall, this SOTU is, basically, a campaign speech.
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Joe Biden and Donald Trump

Jess Frampton

Why Trump is now the favorite to win the US election

Last time I wrote about the 2024 US election back in November, I rated the outcome of the rematch between President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump a coin flip.

Today, with eight months left until the votes are counted and as the most unwanted sequel since “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure” kicks into high gear, Trump is looking like the slight favorite to return to the White House in 2025.

There are several reasons why.

Biden is unambiguously behind in the polls

If you ask me, Biden is doing a reasonable-to-good job on policy. The post-pandemic inflation has been all but conquered. Unemployment has stayed under 4% throughout. Real wages are up, gas prices are down, and the stock market keeps hitting record highs. Violent crime is near 50-year lows. Oil and gas production is at all-time highs.

But most Americans disagree. Biden’s average job approval ratings have been hovering around 38-39% since October last year, reflecting a drop in support among young progressives who disapprove of his support for Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attacks. Biden’s approval is lower than any modern president’s at this juncture in a reelection campaign except for Jimmy Carter’s … and we know how that one turned out.

While head-to-head polling is less predictive than an incumbent’s job approval this far out, all recent national and swing state polls show Biden trailing Trump. Trump’s advantage is also clear when looking at top-issue polling. A Bloomberg/Morning Consult swing state poll (covering Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada, Arizona, and Georgia – the closest states in 2020) last week asked voters which issues are “very important” to their vote in November. The top five issues were the economy, democracy, crime, immigration, and health care. Trump has sizable leads on who voters trust to handle three of five of these top issues, and he leads on secondary issues such as infrastructure, US-China relations, housing, and guns. He also leads on nearly every economic subcategory in the poll, including all cost-of-living issues, which are a major vulnerability for Biden.

Yes, polls can be and have been wrong before, and polling averages are still reasonably close. And fewer people are responding to polls than they used to — so we really should be careful with these numbers. Plus, Super Tuesday was only just yesterday, so until very recently many voters didn’t believe it’d really come down to Biden vs. Trump, meaning there is still a lot of room for polls to move as the campaign begins in earnest. A lot could and will change in the next eight months in an extremely volatile domestic and global environment. And of course, anything could happen on the health front for either of the two candidates.

But Trump’s clear lead in head-to-head matchups and Biden’s persistently low approval rating suggest Trump is currently the modest favorite in a close race.

SCOTUS helps Trump keep the focus on Biden

As I wrote in November, Biden and Trump are both historically unpopular candidates, meaning that whoever is the main character of the election is likely to lose. That’s why they’re each trying to frame the election as a referendum on the other.

Biden’s most obvious liability is his age (also a liability for Trump, to be sure), something he can do nothing to overcome. Moreover, as the incumbent president, he’s the go-to lightning rod for the national mood. All the things people believe are going wrong in this country (especially illegal immigration) – and even things that are going wrong abroad, such as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza – are his fault by default. The buck, after all, stops at the Oval Office. These weaknesses are not going away between now and November – if anything, they’re getting worse.

Trump’s biggest liability, meanwhile, is his unfitness for office. This is best captured by the 91 felony counts he faces in four separate cases – the first criminal charges ever faced by a US president … all of which now look unlikely to have any impact on the election. The one wildcard issue that could have seriously dented the Trump campaign, a federal criminal conviction before the election, became dead in the water last week when the Supreme Court agreed to hear Trump’s case for presidential immunity in his DC election interference trial. The court set oral arguments for the week of April 22 and issued a stay on proceedings in the trial until the court rules, effectively pushing the trial’s timeline – which was expected to start in the spring and run throughout the summer campaign – significantly back.

Coupled with the court’s unanimous ruling on Monday keeping the former president on the ballot nationwide (overturning a Colorado state court ruling that held he was disqualified based on Section Three of the 14th Amendment), this decision was a gift to Trump. The election interference case was the greatest political risk to the former president, reminding independent voters and moderate Republicans of Trump’s actions on Jan. 6. But even on the court’s expedited timeline, it now looks unlikely that the DC trial – the one case most likely to have brought a felony conviction against Trump – will begin before August (presuming the court denies the former president immunity, as most legal analysts think it will). With the trial expected to last 8-12 weeks, the odds of a conviction before November are now exceedingly low.

Polling shows that a guilty verdict in the Jan. 6 case would cost Trump significant support from independents and moderate Republicans. Taking that risk off the table neutralizes one of his campaign’s biggest vulnerabilities and helps Trump keep the focus on Biden. The remaining cases against Trump have limited electoral importance. The Florida classified documents trial is almost certain to be delayed, too. The Manhattan cases are widely seen by Republicans as nakedly political and therefore meaningless. While the Georgia case on election racketeering, in many ways the most serious of them all, has become politically fraught because of allegations of misconduct against the lead prosecutor.

Trump’s other major weakness in the past has been his inability to keep the campaign’s focus off himself. But so far, he looks to be running a remarkably disciplined campaign, staffed by veteran professionals who are keeping him on message and deploying him strategically throughout the primaries. Sure enough, his all-caps rants on Truth Social are still unhinged, and the signs of age-related mental decline are becoming more pronounced with each rally, but by and large, the craziness is either not breaking through into the mainstream media anymore or it’s already baked into voters’ assessments of him. To the extent that Republicans only need to run a good-enough candidate to beat an unpopular incumbent, Trump may be turning into that – with a generous assist from the Supreme Court.

Party unity, third parties also likely to benefit Trump

Trump and Biden’s ability to consolidate and mobilize their bases will be a major factor in November, and according to a New York Times/Siena poll released over the weekend, Trump is miles ahead of Biden on this front: 48% of Republican primary voters say they are “enthusiastic” about Trump, while only 23% of Democratic primary voters are “enthusiastic’ about Biden and 26% are “dissatisfied” with the president.

This split in the Democratic Party, fueled by concerns about Biden’s age and his response to the Israel-Hamas war, is evident in the president’s depressed approval ratings and eroding support with minority voters. Most critically, the NYT/Siena poll shows Trump is winning 97% of those who say they voted for him in 2020, while Biden is winning only 83% of his 2020 voters, 10% of whom say they will back Trump in November.

Third-party and independent candidates are also likely to play the biggest role in an election since 1992 amid high dissatisfaction with both Biden and Trump. While these candidates face an uphill battle to get on the ballot in the first place and have no chance of winning any states in November if they do, they can still play a spoiler in the handful of swing states that will decide the election.

Polling suggests that independent Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., whose campaign recently announced it had gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in Arizona and Georgia, would take roughly the same number of votes from Trump as he would from Biden. By contrast, the far-left campaigns of Jill Stein and Cornel West are nearly guaranteed to reduce Biden’s vote share, drawing almost exclusively from dissatisfied progressives and minorities who would otherwise vote for the president or stay home. Recent national and swing state polls show Trump’s lead over Biden widening when third partiers are included, posing yet another headwind to Biden’s campaign.

Republican presidential candidate and former US President Donald Trump gestures at a watch party event to mark the Super Tuesday primary elections at his Mar-a-Lago property, in Palm Beach, Florida, on March 5, 2024.

REUTERS/Marco Bello

Super Tuesday results shock no one

President Joe Biden and Donald Trump cemented their leads in the 16 primary contests yesterday, and a rematch of 2020 now looks inevitable.

Trump won at least 13 of the votes and is set to clinch the nomination as soon as next week. His biggest competition, Nikki Haley, carved out a surprise win in Vermont, bringing her delegate tally up to 89 compared to Trump’s 995. But she opted out of a victory speech in the Green Mountain State – and is reportedly planning to suspend her campaign.

But her showing in North Carolina signaled that anti-Trump sentiment is alive and well, especially among independents and college-educated Republicans. Trump only narrowly carried Republican primary voters with college degrees in North Carolina, 51% to 45%, and roughly one in four Republicans in the Tar Heel State said they would feel dissatisfied if Trump won the nomination.

Biden blew his rivals out of the water. The president won every race apart from the American Samoa, where he tied with entrepreneur Jason Palmer.

But the trend of Democratic voters choosing “uncommitted” in protest of US policy in Gaza continued on Super Tuesday. Uncommitted earned 19% of the votes in Minnesota, mirroring the results in Michigan last week and potentially threatening the Midwestern “blue wall” that was critical to his victory over Trump in 2020.

Other key races: In the California Senate race, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff boxed out his Democratic rivals and is likely to replace the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein when he faces off against the GOP candidate in the dependably blue state. In Alabama, newly drawn districts look likely to lead to the red state sending two Black representatives to Washington for the first time.

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Are you wondering about other elections around the globe this year? Check out GZERO's guide to the most pivotal votes of 2024.

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