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Biden says Trump will make inflation worse. It’s unclear if he can convince voters.

Joe Biden is likely to make a case on the debate stage tonight that Donald Trump will make inflation worse.

Whether voters believe him is another matter entirely.

The possibility of “Trumpflation” has been a growing topic for months now, largely in academic and political circles. And it’s a message that Biden aides say the president will likely try to inject into the conversation when the two men meet tonight in Atlanta.

The case is that Trump’s proposals — most notably his tariffs plans but also his push for tax cuts as well as a return to harsh immigration policies — could lead to higher inflation and undermine the US economy.

Support for that argument came this week in the form of a letter from 16 Nobel prize-winning economists who warned that Trump’s policies could slow the US and world economy and “reignite” inflation if enacted.

The Biden campaign seized on the news, with campaign spokesperson James Singer quickly offering in a statement that “in Donald Trump’s America, the rich pay less, and working Americans pay more.”

Read more: How does the labor market affect inflation?

FILE - This combo image shows Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, left, March 9, 2024 and President Joe Biden, right, Jan. 27, 2024. (AP Photo, File)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump and and President Joe Biden. (AP Photos) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

It very much remains to be seen if the Biden campaign can convince the wider electorate to rethink its views on inflation, but the president may have a small window with voters.

Recent polling has shown a slight uptick in voters’ dour perceptions of Biden, inflation, and the economy more widely.

A recent Fox News poll in the aftermath of Trump’s criminal conviction garnered headlines, with Biden taking the lead in a hypothetical national matchup for the first time since last October. The uptick for Biden was also driven by a strengthening of his economic hand.

His inflation approval rating in that poll stood at 37%. That’s hardly an enviable position for an incumbent president to be in, but it nonetheless represents the highest result for Biden in over two years of Fox’s polling on that question.

Trump, meanwhile, clearly has no intention of letting up his advantage on the inflation issue and will use his time on the stage tonight to hammer Biden on soaring prices.

“We know that Joe Biden is going to try to blame everything on President Trump,” Trump senior advisor Jason Miller said this week.

“Americans are pretty smart; they know inflation was only at 1.9%, basically nothing, when President Trump left office,” he added.

Trump’s campaign has indeed often pushed back on the “Trumpflation” concerns, noting that he spent four years in office — and implemented things like high tariffs and tax cuts — without an inflation spike.

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The former president was asked about studies looking at the costs of tariffs in a recent Time interview and charged that the experts behind these studies don’t “know what they’re talking about.”

“I don’t believe it’ll be inflation,” he added of the effects of his potential second-term policies.

Banners are placed outside of the Georgia Tech Institute of Technology ahead of the first presidential debate in Atlanta, Georgia on June 24, 2024. Two years after the US Supreme Court stripped constitutional protections for abortion, the explosive issue will feature prominently in Thursday's debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump -- with the Republican under pressure not to alienate voters. (Photo by CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA/AFP via Getty Images)Banners are placed outside of the Georgia Tech Institute of Technology ahead of the first presidential debate in Atlanta, Georgia on June 24, 2024. Two years after the US Supreme Court stripped constitutional protections for abortion, the explosive issue will feature prominently in Thursday's debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump -- with the Republican under pressure not to alienate voters. (Photo by CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA/AFP via Getty Images)

Banners are placed outside of the Georgia Tech Institute of Technology ahead of the first presidential debate in Atlanta on CNN. (CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA/AFP via Getty Images) (CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA via Getty Images)

But it’s a question that keeps coming up and is backed by a growing body of research.

A recent Moody’s Analytics analysis found a Republican sweep in November could mean higher inflation and possibly a recession. And a report from the Peterson Institute for International Economics calculated that just Trump’s tariff ideas alone could add $1,700 in additional costs for the average American family.

Trump himself was also confronted with the question on a recent podcast appearance — specifically a charge from former Treasury secretary Larry Summers that Trump’s policies could equal “the mother of all stagflations.”

Trump didn’t address the underlying charge in his response but said, “I happen to be a big believer in tariffs” before moving on to other topics.

What Biden may be aiming for Thursday night is not to outperform Trump on inflation but simply to raise the concern and try to neutralize inflation as a political issue.

“To the degree Biden can also package and characterize the set of Trump ideas — from tariffs to tax cuts — as inflationary, he might be able to make some progress,” wrote analysts at Evercore ISI in a recent preview of the debate for clients.

But the effect could be limited, with this week’s note also pointing out that “policy is secondary” in tonight’s clash and that the debate is more likely to revolve around things like temperament and fitness for office.

However it plays out tonight, inflation is likely to remain one of Biden’s primary political vulnerabilities between now and November.

A recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll from earlier this month underlined the uphill climb Biden has ahead, with an approval rating for Biden on inflation of just 29% and a 16-point gap with Trump on the issue.

In that poll, 49% of respondents said Trump would do a better job of handling inflation as president to Biden’s 33%.

The percentage of voters who still aren’t sure: 18%.

Ben Werschkul is Washington correspondent for Yahoo Finance.

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