Democrats' prospects in the 2022 midterm elections haven't looked good for some time, but on Thursday the party was delivered an "absolute body blow" with the news that the U.S. economy shrank 1.4% in the first quarter.
That's the assessment of CNN political analyst Chris Cillizza, who formerly wrote for the Washington Post political blog The Fix.
In an analysis for CNN.com, he wrote that "in a decidedly ill omen, the GDP shrinkage was the worst performance of the measure since the economy went into recession amid the shutting down of the country in the spring of 2020."
Cillizza noted that Gallup polling data already indicated Americans have extremely low confidence in the economy.
In an April survey, 42% of Americans said economic conditions were "poor" and another 38% said that they were only "fair." A mere 2% said economic conditions were "excellent," while just 18% said they were "good." Further, 76% of Americans said the economy was getting worse, compared to 20% who said it was improving.
Typically, inflation does not accompany a shrinkage of the economy. But in March, the Consumer Price Index hit 8.5%, the highest figure in 40 years, signaling the return of the dreaded stagflation that afflicted the nation in the 1970s.
"Add all of those factors up, and you get an absolutely toxic political environment facing President Joe Biden and Democrats as they prepare to defend their House and Senate majorities in November," Cillizza wrote.
He cited Biden pollster John Anzalone calling it "the worst political environment that I've lived through in 30 years of being a political consultant."
The CNN analyst noted that while midterm elections in a president's first term are routinely bad for his party, "that trend is made far worse when the president is unpopular, as Biden is now."
Gallup's first quarter polling showed Biden's job approval rating at 41% and other pollsters have it lower.
Cillizza pointed out there isn't much time before the election for Biden to turn around the economy and voters' perceptions about it.
If things remain the same, he said, Democrats "will experience a cataclysm at the ballot box this fall."
"The question won't be whether they hold their paper-thin majorities in the House and Senate, but rather how big the electoral hole will be that they have to try to dig out from over the coming decade."