In 1980, during his presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan asked Americans, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”
The question has since become a key barometer that presidential candidates ask Americans to consider as they mull whom to vote for in the quadrennial battle for the White House.
And for decades, the Gallup polling organization has been asking people that very question. Just three weeks before the election — and with one pollster saying Biden has an 86% chance of winning on Nov. 3 — Gallup’s latest finding were quite surprising.
In a survey taken Sept. 14-28, the polling organization asked more than 1,000 Americans “to compare your situation today with what it was four years ago. Are you better off than you were four years ago or not?”
A whopping 56% said they are better off. Just under a third (32%) said they were not.
It’s important to point out that the poll came long after lockdowns over the pandemic crashed the economy, leaving millions without jobs and plunging the economy into recession.
Even more important is a comparison with previous presidents who were seeking re-election. In December 2012, shortly after President Barack Obama was re-elected, Gallup found 45% felt that they were better off than four years ago. Just before President George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, Gallup found that 47% said they were better off. And before Reagan won re-election in a 49-state landslide in 1984, 44% said they were better off.
It’s worth noting President George H.W. Bush’s re-election bid in 1992. Then, just 38% of Americans told Gallup they were better off than four years before.
The Gallup survey gathered some other interesting data, including voter enthusiasm.
“Americans are expressing greater enthusiasm about voting in the 2020 election than they have done at a similar point in any election year since 2004. In fact, the 67% currently saying they are more enthusiastic than usual about voting ties as the highest Gallup has measured at any point in prior campaigns, including a late October 2008 reading and a reading right after the 2004 Democratic convention,” Gallup wrote.
Gallup also said turnout among independents could be lower this election.
“Republicans (83%) and Democrats (81%) are about equally likely to say they are giving quite a lot of thought to the election, with independents lagging at 64%. This is similar to the partisan pattern seen at this stage of the campaign in all election years since 2000. As more people focus on the campaign in the final month, larger gaps between Republicans and Democrats can emerge,” the polling organization wrote.
Still, there was some good news for Biden:
Before the first presidential debate and news that President Donald Trump had contracted COVID-19, American voters were more likely to say his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, has the personality and leadership qualities that a president should have. According to Gallup’s Sept. 14-28 poll, nearly half of registered voters (49%) agreed that Biden has these qualities, while 44% agreed that Trump has them. At the same time, similar percentages of voters said they agree with the candidates on the issues: 49% said so of Trump and 46% of Biden.