America This Week: Special Report – Axios Vibes By The Harris Poll

Hello from Davos, Switzerland, where Harris Poll’s co-CEO John Gerzema and CSO Libby Rodney are attending the 2024 World Economic Forum. 

Earlier this morning, Libby moderated a conversation at The Female Quotient’s Equality Lounge, diving into women’s adoption, acceleration, and potential power of AI. Check out the discussion here and the full Harris Poll/FQ “The State Of AI + Women” report here.

Libby Rodney joins Jessica Apotheker (BCG), May Habib (Writer AI), and Cleo Constantine Abram (Video Journalist)

John and Libby then joined Unlocking Eve in a dynamic session around the call for Integrated Leadership. A decade ago, we rang the alarm on the state of global leadership in John’s book, The Athena Doctrine. Yet, ten years later, we find ourselves in a deepening leadership crisis with more complex challenges to solve. The solution? Moving past the overreliance on outdated leadership norms into unlocking and expanding our capacities to lead. 

Diving into the newsletter now, last week, we launched a new editorial series, Axios Vibes By The Harris Poll, in partnership with Axios. Our Vibes surveys, conducted throughout the 2024 campaign, will tap into personal experiences and psychological responses to capture the nation’s feelings through a “Vibe Check,” which may differ from the metrics on which many economic experts or political leaders focus on.

For the first Axios Vibes survey by The Harris Poll, we reveal Republicans, rural residents, renters, women, and singles disproportionately feel like they’re in a financial funk. A “Vibe Check” that may have vast implications for the upcoming election. Check out the full coverage of the inaugural Vibes survey below.

Vibes: America’s Unhappiest People

Republicans, rural residents, renters, women, and singles disproportionately feel like they’re in a big fat funk financially, our debut Axios Vibes survey by The Harris Poll reveals.

  • Axios Vibe Check: Red, rural, and renting 😡
  • By the numbers: Nearly 2 in 5 (37%) Americans rate their financial situation as poor – climbing higher for Republicans (42%), women (43%), rural residents (46%), singles (47%), and renters (57%). 
  • And (41%) of Americans say their finances are worse today than they’d have predicted if they’d been asked pre-COVID, surging to over half of renters (51%), rural residents (53%), and Republicans (55%). 
  • The big picture – the gap between economic reporting and American experiences: 3 in 4 (76%) agree that “economists may say things are getting better, but we’re not feeling it where I live.
  • Even more Americans (88%) agree that “Gas, groceries, and housing costs — not stocks — are the real economic indicators I care about.”

Takeaway: Our research with Axios also suggests that many Americans are “consuming in denial” – continuing to spend and run up credit card bills even though they’re short on cash – and that “they’re looking to deflect some of the blame” to leaders in government, said John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll. “There’s a sense of entitlement, that Americans feel like, ‘We’re worth it, so, I might change my vote, but I’m not going to change my lifestyle,'” Gerzema said.

Vibes: Biden’s Key Voting Blocs Stressed About Money

Additional findings show several of President Biden’s crucial voting blocs are plagued by financial stress – despite data that points to an improving economy.

  • Axios Vibe Check: Reports of low unemployment and steadying prices suggest Americans should feel 🙏, but many Americans, including those ages 18-42, feel 😬 about their finances.
  • Zoom in: Half (49%) of Americans said their household budget today brings more stress than their pre-pandemic budget.
  • Asked whom they blame for today’s high prices, a plurality (34%) of respondents said “the current administration.”
  • Stressed-out voting blocs: Half of Millennials and Gen Z say they’re staying up late worrying about money, while about (40%) have asked family/friends for financial help on bills this past month.
  • Women, in particular, don’t feel like they’re getting ahead financially, and nearly (60%) of Hispanics say they’re more stressed about their household budgets than they were before the pandemic.

Takeaway: “There are a lot of different, very diverse groups … who still have these depressed economic attitudes,” John Gerzema, CEO of the Harris Poll, told Axios. “They’re just not believing or not feeling what Biden is talking about” when the president touts sunnier days ahead.”

Vibes: Why Renters Are Feeling Worse About Their Finances Than Homeowners

According to our Vibes research, renters are most likely to describe their current financial situation as poor, while homeowners have a rosier take.

  • Axios Vibe Check: Renters feel 😒 about their finances; homeowners feel 🤑.
  • By the numbers: (57%) of renters in our poll described their current financial situation as “poor,” compared with just (29%) of homeowners.
  • Also, homeowners are nearly twice as likely to say they’re getting ahead financially than renters.
  • Nearly half of all renters (46%) said they didn’t have the money when a bill was due over the past month (v. homeowners: 29%).

Takeaway: The median asking rent in the U.S. is up 40% from the first quarter of 2020 – i.e., before the pandemic – according to the latest census data from the third quarter of 2023. In some regions, increases were higher. That means many renters’ salaries didn’t keep pace with housing costs – with lots of variation by region and individual, of course – while inflation pressured the costs of everything else.

Vibes: Americans Are Angry – And Think Their Leaders Don’t Care

Americans agree on at least one thing in our research: A huge margin say their political leaders don’t care about them.

  • Axios Vibe Check: (74%) of Americans said they don’t think their leaders care about them 😡 😒
  • No single group reached (40%) – whether broken down by race, party, gender, age, income, or geographic region – on saying yes when asked whether they think leaders care about them or their loved ones.
  • Not looking good for Biden: (43%) said their lives are worse under the Biden administration, vs. (29%) who said better (v. unchanged: 28%).
  • Even Democrats are split on their feelings, with just half (53%) saying they’re better off under President Biden.

Takeaway: “The vibe Americans are giving their political leaders is that they’re pale, stale, and frail. Most of the country does not see the people in charge as relatable, caring or connected to their lives in any genuine way,” said John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll.

Vibes: A $126 Grocery Tab That Explains The Vibes Paradox

Americans are furious about high inflation. Economists say that high inflation has mostly been vanquished. Both are correct.

  • Axios Vibe Check: How Americans feel about their grocery tab: 😡 😬 😔
  • By the numbers: About (72%) of respondents said that groceries are where they feel most affected by inflation, and (59%) feel some sort of adverse reaction when shopping for groceries – angry, anxious, or resigned.
  • Inflation has eased, but the receipts are more expensive: Suppose, in December of 2019, you had a weekly grocery budget of $100. Today, Axios analyzes the price of “food at home” (as the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls it) kept rising, so that weekly bill was $125.51 last month:

Takeaway: According to the Axios Vibes poll, Americans’ frustration with their rising grocery bills underpins their negative views about the economy — an economy that the professionals say is doing pretty well. The data explain why this paradox isn’t such a paradox after all.

Download the Data

This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by The Harris Poll from January 12th to 14th, among a nationally representative sample of 2,069 U.S. adults.

John Gerzema headshot

John Gerzema


Download the Data

This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by The Harris Poll from January 12th to 14th, among a nationally representative sample of 2,069 U.S. adults.


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