The Cost of Thanksgiving Dinner with a Side of Partisan Spin

,

As Americans gather for the Thanksgiving holiday, both the White House and the Republican National Committee have served up some political spin: They claimed this year’s dinner was either cheaper or more expensive. And they’re both right.

Whether the turkey and all the fixings cost more or less depends on the comparison point.

Biden pardons Liberty, the national Thanksgiving turkey, during a Nov. 20 ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

On Monday, the RNC posted an item on its website about the “Thanksgiving Price Shock,” lamenting that the “price of a traditional Thanksgiving meal has surged by 25 percent since 2019.” The next day, the White House issued a press release boasting that “Prices Are Down.” Citing the same source as the RNC — the American Farm Bureau Federation, a nonprofit advocacy group — President Joe Biden’s administration said “the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner fell this year, and it’s cheaper than last year to buy favorites like turkey, stuffing, pie crusts, and whipping cream.”

As often happens in politics, both Democrats and Republicans were able to find something they liked in the same report. The American Farm Bureau Federation announced last week that the national average cost for a “classic Thanksgiving feast for 10” this year is about $61.17, “a 4.5% decline from historically high prices last year, driven by a decline in the price of the Thanksgiving dinner centerpiece – the turkey.” But, it added: “Despite the year-over-year relief, the cost is still 25% higher compared to 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.” (The price hike is 30% compared with 2020, AFBF’s figures show.)

Neither the White House nor the RNC mentioned the part of the report that was favorable to the other side. It’s a classic example of how political rhetoric relies on the selective use of statistics and not telling the whole story.

This is the 38th year for the AFBF’s admittedly “informal” survey, which relies on volunteer shoppers to check grocery store prices in person and online. This year’s figures come from 245 surveys with prices from all U.S. states plus Puerto Rico.

The average cost of a 16-pound turkey, which AFB pins at $27.35 this year, may actually be lower than that for many Americans. That’s because the price information was collected Nov. 1 through 6, “before most grocery store chains began featuring whole frozen turkeys at sharply lower prices,” AFBF said. And the reason for the price cut in 2023? A drop in cases of avian influenza — which caused supply issues and helped drive up prices last year.

The White House and RNC also offered competing narratives about gasoline prices. The White House said “gas prices are down $1.70 from their peak,” while the RNC noted that “prices remain nearly $1/gallon higher than when Biden took office.” Yes, those are both accurate statements again.

The national average price of regular gasoline was $2.38 per gallon the week before Biden took office in January 2021. It peaked at $5.01 the week of June 13, 2022, and is now down to $3.29 for the week ending Nov. 20.

As we’ve noted before, while a president often takes credit or gets blamed for high or low inflation and gas prices, market forces beyond a president’s control typically drive such economic indicators.

So, if a family squabble erupts at the dinner table on Thursday over whether grocery prices are up or down, be prepared to play peacemaker. Tell your relatives they’re both right. Happy Thanksgiving.


Editor’s note: FactCheck.org does not accept advertising. We rely on grants and individual donations from people like you. Please consider a donation. Credit card donations may be made through our “Donate” page. If you prefer to give by check, send to: FactCheck.org, Annenberg Public Policy Center, 202 S. 36th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *