When Republican Ronald Reagan challenged incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1980, Reagan posed a simple question to voters: Are you better off now than you were four years ago?
Back then, the United States was wracked by low economic growth, high inflation and an energy crisis that forced Americans to wait in long lines for gas. Not to mention the Iranian hostage crisis. Of course, Reagan defeated Carter along with independent candidate John B. Anderson, and went on to serve two terms in the White House.
Today, the country has slow economic growth, stubborn unemployment and high gas prices that are straining the budgets of everyday Americans. And there’s trouble among the new democracies in the Middle East. So Republican Mitt Romney is asking the same question to voters in challenging Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama for the White House.
“Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” Romney said in his nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
Will the strategy work?
Maybe not in 2012. A recent poll by the respected Pew Research Center shows voters’ response to the question is more rooted in their political leanings — not necessarily the balance in their checkbook or 401(k) account. The poll concluded that “partisan affiliation” was just as important as personal finances in how people responded to Romney’s question.
Among Republicans, 56 percent of Republicans reported being in worse shape now than at the start of the recession in December 2007 — a little more than a year before Obama took office. About 23 percent of Republicans said they had fared better. Among Democrats, only about 39 percent felt their finances were worse, while 37 percent said they were in better shape. Among independents, about half said they were worse off, while 30 percent said their financial situation had improved.
“Americans do not rate their personal finances any better — or worse — than they did when Barack Obama took office nearly four years ago,” the Pew survey concluded.
The Miami Herald garnered similar responses when it posed the same question to members of HeraldSource. The group is part of the Public Insight Network and helps The Herald explore timely issues in the news. Here’s a sampling of the comments:
Evelyn Stahl: Republican, Hallandale Beach
“I am not better off today than I was 4 years ago. I am now living in a country that has a government bigger and more intrusive than ever before. I am living in a country that is in an extreme economic crisis and terrible debt. We are heading toward a precipice economically. Our credit is about to take another downturn. We are living in a country where the news is being manipulated by the media for their own liberal agenda. We are living in a country where we have a president who doesn’t seem to care whether we are No. 1 in the world or not. I feel frightened as a Jew and for the state of Israel in light of the fact that we have a president who appears weak in standing up for our country against radical Islam. Our country is in much worse shape than it was four years ago.”
Stahl, 67, a retired schoolteacher and library media specialist from Miami-Dade schools, is voting for Romney in November. “This is a man who has succeeded at every major task he has set out to accomplish,” she said.