61% say they are better off than three years ago
No more than 50% have said this in past election cycles
Evaluations of U.S. world standing mostly similar to past elections
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sixty-one percent of Americans say they are better off than they were three years ago, a higher percentage than in prior election years when an incumbent president was running. In the 1992, 1996 and 2004 election cycles, exactly half said they were better off. In three separate measures during the 2012 election cycle, an average of 45% said they were better off.
The current results, from a Jan. 16-29 Gallup poll, echo record highs, measured earlier in January, in Americans’ satisfaction with the way things are going in their personal life and in their assessments of their personal finances.
Relatedly, 52% of U.S. adults say it is easier for them to ‘go and buy things in the stores’ than it was three years ago, higher than in the 1992, 1996 and 2004 election cycles, when the figures were closer to 40%.
Americans’ perceptions of whether they are personally better off, and whether it is easier to buy things, appear to be influenced much more by their party leanings than by their economic situations. Sixty percentage points separate Republicans’ (89%) and Democrats’ (29%) assessments of whether they are better off than three years ago. Independents are essentially in the middle of the two groups, at 60%. Meanwhile, 64% of those in both upper- and middle-income households say they are better off, as do 49% of those in lower-income households.
The Republican-Democratic gap is smaller — 44 points — when people indicate whether it is easier for them to buy things than it was three years ago: 76% of Republicans versus 32% of Democrats say it is, as do 49% of independents.
The party gaps on the ‘better off than three years ago’ question were much smaller in the past, partly because supporters of the incumbent president’s party were less upbeat about their situations than Republicans are today.
In addition to higher ratings among Republicans, today’s higher figures are also driven by more positive ratings among independents — 60% today, compared with ratings near 50% in prior years.
In 1980, President Reagan famously asked the American people, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
When he asked this, America was in a terrible economic situation. It was bold nonetheless because all but one of the major polls in October and November had Jimmy Carter ahead of Reagan. Some say it was this self-reflective question asked less than a week before the election that put Reagan over the top.
President Trump is in a completely different situation. He’s the incumbent and the economy is soaring. It might behoove him to ask this question time and time again until the election, as some advisers are certain to recommend. If I had the President’s ear, I would tell him to hold the question until the end, perhaps the closing argument of the final debate, before dropping this potent seed in the minds of voters.
Republicans and Independents overwhelmingly realize their personal situations are better now than they were under President Obama. Over a quarter of Democrats have to admit it as well. President Trump should ride this fact to victory in November.