With inflation running rampant in the United States and the Biden administration scrambling for a solution to what's become a major political and economic crisis, new polling data and swing-state focus group results shared exclusively with Common Dreams suggest one approach would be especially effective: Challenging corporate greed.
Conducted by the research firm GBAO on behalf of Fight Corporate Monopolies, the recent national surveys and focus groups in two key battleground states show that voters are particularly responsive to and supportive of messaging that connects price hikes to profiteering by big business.
"Do you stand with working families hit with higher costs or will you allow corporations to keep jacking up prices?"
For example, GBAO finds that 74% of voters say they would be more likely to back a candidate who supports outlawing price gouging as a way to "crack down on companies using inflation and the pandemic to raise prices." Voters, facing pain at the pump, become even more supportive when the surging profits of oil and gas companies are mentioned.
"There is hardly any difference across party lines in engagement on these policies, suggesting an opportunity for either party to define itself as a champion on corporate accountability," GBAO notes in a memo provided to Common Dreams .
Speaking for themselves during focus group sessions held in April--when inflation was up 8.3% compared to the year before, the highest level in four decades--voters in Wisconsin and Arizona confirmed their view that corporate profit-seeking is contributing to the price hikes U.S. consumers are seeing at grocery stores , gas stations, restaurants, and elsewhere.
One voter, identified as a Black woman from Wisconsin, said that corporations are using inflationary pressures across the U.S. and global economy as a "convenient excuse to line pockets."
Another, identified as a Latina from Phoenix, said that "there is a greed factor in the raising of prices."
"I think they go up whether there's a pandemic or not," she added, "but companies are covering their losses from the last couple of years."
Inflation in the U.S. has only gotten worse since April as Russia's war on Ukraine roils global energy markets and corporations push higher costs onto consumers, even after raking in record profits in 2021.
Federal data published last week showed that inflation was up 8.6% in May compared to a year earlier, exceeding analysts' expectations and sparking fears of more aggressive interest rate hikes from the Federal Reserve, whose chair Jerome Powell has expressed a desire to "get wages down."
In a statement responding to the latest figures, President Joe Biden vowed that his administration will "continue to do everything we can to lower prices for the American people."
The president also briefly hit on price gouging by major fossil fuel companies. It is "important," Biden said, "that the oil and gas and refining industries in this country not use the challenge created by the war in Ukraine as a reason to make things worse for families with excessive profit-taking or price hikes."
Progressives have urged Biden to more forcefully highlight that dynamic even as top members of his own administration--including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen-- dismiss it and Powell pushes the widely disputed notion that modest wage increases are fueling inflation.
In recent months, administration officials have been locked in an internal battle over whether to publicly connect corporate profiteering and consolidation to surging prices. As the Washington Post reported in February, members of the White House Council of Economic Advisers have "raised objections to the idea that a spike in prices was due to corporate power."
But outside economists have said the connection is clear. In an April blog post , Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute pointed to data indicating that growing corporate profit margins "account for a disproportionate share of price growth."
On top of evidence showing that the argument tying record profits to rising inflation is accurate, Fight Corporate Monopolies executive director Helen Brosnan noted that it is also very popular. Polls released over the past several months, including those carried out by GBAO, have consistently found that voters blame corporate greed for the inflation spike.
"The results of our massive survey effort couldn't be clearer," Brosnan said. "Ahead of the midterms, voters across the nation are eager to support candidates who embrace economic populism and prove to the American people that corporations are no longer above the law."
In a new letter shared with Common Dreams , Fight Corporate Monopolies cites its polling data and focus group results to implore the White House to take "immediate, bold action" to combat corporate price gouging.
"The American people want to know what side you're on: Do you stand with working families hit with higher costs or will you allow corporations to keep jacking up prices, outsource more jobs, avoid paying taxes, and evade prosecution for clear crimes?" reads the letter, sent to the White House last week. "People across the country--and across party lines--want corporate giants and their enablers held to account. They are poised to reward leaders who crack down on corporate actors who threaten our economy and our democracy."
"The president should bring the major oil companies and tell them we're gonna have a windfall profits tax on what they're doing."
"You have the tools at your discretion, we urge you to publicly show a wholesale approach to combat corporate power," the letter adds.
Progressive lawmakers and advocacy groups have recently stressed that Biden can take a number of steps to drive down prices without needing approval from Congress. In March, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) called on the president to use his executive authority to slash prescription drug costs, which are rising faster than inflation as pharmaceutical companies set sky-high prices and reap the rewards in their bottom lines.
The CPC also recommended that Biden "fight cost increases for working families and protect workers by developing an inter-agency task force to investigate, prosecute, and deter white-collar crime, including anti-competitive and price-gouging business behaviors as well as firms' exploitation of heightened inflation to pad profits."
Democratic lawmakers have also introduced legislation that would hit large oil and gas companies with a windfall profits tax, an overwhelmingly popular proposal. The White House has signaled that it is open to supporting the bill, but the measure has not received a vote in the House or the Senate.
"Major oil companies made $35 billion in profit in the first quarter of this year, and at the end of the year it is estimated that they're gonna give $88 billion in stock buybacks to their wealthy shareholders," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said during an event Monday. "So I do think we have to do something about the outrageously high price of gas."
"I think the president should bring the major oil companies in," Sanders added, "and tell them we're gonna have a windfall profits tax on what they're doing in order to stop them from ripping off the American people."