Steve Kornacki in Salon makes a point I honestly hadn't thought about before as to why the perennial election-year query "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" may not work this time around. It's simply because, unlike Obama, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, the last two presidents to lose their bids at re-election, did not inherit weak economies. The economies soured under their watches, while Obama stepped into an economic mess the likes of which we haven't seen since the Great Depression and the economy has been steadily improving ever since.
This seems to be reflected in recent polling, in which more Americans still blame Bush for the state of the economy than they do Obama.
http://www.salon.com/...Kornacki also makes the case that inflation had nearly tripled under Carter's watch and unemployment had risen two points in the year-and-a-half leading up to the election.
But Obama’s argument may be an exception, because polls consistently show that Americans do remember what happened four years ago – who was president when the economy melted down, how severe and terrifying the fallout was, and how impossible the situation that Obama inherited was. There is evidence that memories of George W. Bush have translated into a benefit-of-the-doubt effect for Obama, leaving him in better political shape than in incumbent president in this economic climate should be.
In the case of Poppy Bush,
The unemployment rate had been around 5 percent when George H.W. Bush took office, but by the summer of his reelection year it had spiked to nearly 8 percent. The fall brought some signs of improvement, but it was too late for the incumbent. It sure seemed like something had happened on Bush’s watch to hurt an economy that had been working pretty well when he came to power.Could it be that the trajectory of the economic indicators ultimately matters more to voters than the raw numbers?
Kornacki concludes with this:
This is a much different election. The economy was in a freefall that hadn’t been seen since FDR’s days as Obama was taking the oath of office. If the Wall Street meltdown had played out in September 2009, Obama probably wouldn’t be getting much benefit of the doubt now. But it played out in September 2008, at the end of a presidency that the overwhelming majority of voters had decided was a disaster. This doesn’t mean Obama is in the clear; the polls are close, and even if he wins, it will probably be by a narrow margin. But “Are you better off?” automatically undermine him the way it did with Carter and Bush 41.I think he may be onto something here.