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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.

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.

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.

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.

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Comment Preferences

  •  great point from a fav diarist - great job (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ekgrulez1, BusyinCA

    rolandz !

  •  Posted this in a earlier diary... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...and reposting here - we can take solace in the fact that it will be extremely hard to make a soundbite clip of this sound as deceiving as Obama's "You didn't build that" sound clip.

    I'd rather not search on youtube and relive the whole thing, but if you listen to it again, O'Malley's "but" comes immediately after the "no."  I suppose the GOP ad teams can cut it off after "...but this isn't what this election is about," but if they do, then tell us - what IS this election about?  What did O'Malley say?  Then people will google O'Malley and see all his positions and think, well that makes sense!  (wishful thinking I know.)

    Even the CNN article out  there, the best it can do is put the rest of O'Malley's sentence in the following paragraph - because they absolutely know that leaving out that part would be blatantly dishonest.

    That said, I wouldn't put it past the GOP to run with this.  They have been.

    But feel better that (1) not that many people know who Governor O'Malley is (this isn't like Bill Clinton saying something like that), and (2) again, this will be a very hard soundbite cut up job.  Oh and as rolandz points out (3) there are many Americans smart enough to understand that all this is not the President's fault.

    "If these Republicans can't stand up to Rush, how can they stand up to the Iranians?" - Redmond Barry

    by xsonogall on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 10:04:24 AM PDT

  •  Pound this meme: (8+ / 0-)

    The house was on fire.

    The fire is now out.

    And the insurance company (Republicans) is dicking us around preventing us from rebuilding.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 10:04:29 AM PDT

  •  Not so sure about the steady part (0+ / 0-)
    and the economy has been steadily improving ever since.
    GDP growth 2010 3.0%
    GDP growth 2011 1.7%
    GDP growth 2012 so far 1.8%

    and of course inflation has risen recently

    •  2010 was when the stimulus (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Red Bean

      really started to go into effect. 2011 and this year, with the GOP dominating the governor mansions and state legislatures they've been cutting back on state and local governments, which hence is still holding back our recovery.

      Private sector growth when you exclude govt has indeed been steadily improving. If govt sector was improving instead of cutting back our unemployment rate would be in steady decline as well.

      Obama needs to point this out; if we are having a recovery in both private and public sectors we would have a full blown recovery.

  •  Republican created and sustained (0+ / 0-)
  •  It Definitely Weakens the Conservative Case nt (0+ / 0-)

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 10:17:39 AM PDT

  •  It's the first derivative, people! (0+ / 0-)

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 10:24:19 AM PDT

  •  Every Republican you can name is better off now, (0+ / 0-)

    Especially Romney and every politician, so the question is just trash talk aimed at humiliating the poor, the weak, the unemployed.

    AMERICA is especially better off because we can trust our President, unlike the first 8 years of this millennium.

    So yes, it is a different question this time around. The answer is YES/YES/YES for the 1% and all the Republicans, they won't have it any other way.

    The answer may not yet be 'yes' for all the afflicted, the jobless, attributed to the do-nothing congress that has prioritized foiling our leader rather than passing jobs legislation.

    They are the ones who proclaimed they would cut off the nose to spite the face. See McConnell, Boehner, Cantor, Ryan, and all of their puppets. We need three branches of government to see this through, not a bunch of spiteful do-nothings proving that they have no ethics and can deliver nothing.

    Gotta go, music, food, kids... Happy Labor Day !

    Willard! Are you better off now than you were four years ago?

    by Says Who on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 10:34:39 AM PDT

  •  There are simply times in history, post calamity (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoasis, ekgrulez1

    when no, you will not be better off than you were four years before. Suppose you asked a Londoner that after the Blitz? Four years before they were not in a World War and their homes were not smoking debris. Should they have voted out Winston Churchill?

    A second point:

    If we are NOT better off, we can ascribe it to
    the final culmination of the Republican policies of the prior administration , obstructionist Republicans during this administration, and any effort to appease and compromise with those same persons. This is why the stimulus was never large enough in the first place. I hope President Obama learns from his mistakes in a second term.

    The answer to Republican induced failure is NOT more Republicans and NOT more republican lite, bi-partisany compromises.

    “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” FDR

    by Phoebe Loosinhouse on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 10:42:02 AM PDT

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