Plurality Of Americans Say They’re Worse Off Since Obama Took Office

Are you better off than you were three years ago? 44% of Americans say no.

On October 28, 1980, President Jimmy Carter and his opponent, Ronald Reagan, met in their one and only debate of the 1980 election, and Reagan asked this question:

For large numbers of Americans, the answer was clearly no. In the four years since Carter had taken office, the economy had been put through the ringer thanks to the massive price inflation, a stagnant economy, and persistently unstable energy prices. On the foreign policy front, the nation was being humiliated by a hostage crisis in Iran that had lasted nearly a year with no end in sight, and blatant Soviet expansionism into Afghanistan. When Americans walked into the polling booth on November 4th, they answered Reagan’s with a resounding no.

According to a new Bloomberg poll, a growing number of Americans are answering Reagan’s question the same way with regard to the current occupant of the White House:

Two years after the official start of the recovery, the American people remain pessimistic about their current economic circumstances and longer-term prospects.

Fewer than a quarter of people see signs of improvement in the economy, and two-thirds say they believe the country is on the wrong track overall, according to a Bloomberg National Poll conducted June 17-20.

“Gas prices are higher, grocery prices are higher, transportation prices are higher,” says poll respondent Ronda Brockway, 54, an insurance company manager and political independent who lives in a suburb of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “The jobs situation nationwide is very poor.”

By a 44 percent to 34 percent margin, Americans say they believe they are worse off than when President Barack Obama took office in early 2009, when the U.S. was in the depths of a recession compounded by the September 2008 financial crisis and the economy was losing as many as 820,000 jobs a month.

The gloom covers the immediate future, with fewer than 1 in 10 people expecting unemployment to return to pre-recession levels within the next two years, and it extends to the next generation. More than half of respondents say their children are destined to have a lower standard of living than they do, upending a traditional touchstone of the American Dream.

This is hardly surprising, actually. Economic pessimism remains very high. One recent poll showed that 48% of the public believe it’s possible we’ll be in a Great Depression within a year. And, earlier this month a survey showed that the vast majority of Americans believed that their family income will drop over the next several years. Finally, there’s the bellwether right track/wrong track poll, which has never really recovered from the chasm that developed during the 2008 economic crisis, and now seems to show a trend toward increasing belief that the country is headed in the wrong direction. Added into this, there’s the fact that the President’s job approval rating have, notwithstanding a bounce up after the death of Osama bin Laden. retreated yet again largely because of the poor grades that voters are giving the President on the economy:

Right now, if the right Republican candidate were to ask voters Reagan’s famous question it’s fairly clear that the answer from many people would be no, and that can’t be good for the President.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Economics and Business, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Muffler says:

    Since, but not because. One must be careful when reading.

  2. Hey Norm says:

    A plurality of Americans believe in ghosts.
    Check your 401K and get back to me.

  3. steve says:

    My 401K iis doing great, thanks for asking.

  4. Hillsky says:

    No I’m not better off same as many American who have lost their job and had there house foreclosed on. Just to watch Billions go to the Financial Industry to bail them out of unsound business practices, while those struggling to get by get nothing.The administration continues the previous administrations policy to invade countries that are oil rich in order to secure Oil supply dominance in competition with China. The Billions spent on war, could have been better spent at home to create oil independence and rebuild our infrastructure roads bridges, Nuclear plants that are 40+years old. Create Jobs in technology to expand energy source and delivery. There is nothing different in the current administration than in the previous one. Corporate run government, the citizens be dammed.

  5. hey norm says:

    @ Steve…eggzachary.

  6. Tano says:

    Funny, but when I look at that approval graph you supply from RealClear, it looks to me like the bottom line is still positive – more people approve than disapprove.

    in fact, one could argue that his approval rating has fluctuated around a pretty stable line for a year and a half now.

  7. SteveP says:

    Since, but not because.

    Since and because. Obama took a bad situation and made it much worse.

  8. legion says:

    Wrong. If he’d had the balls to make a bold move with the stimulus, and not continued Bush’s policy of handing blank checks to banks, things would be much better than they are, but the economy would absolutely be far, far worse if McPalin had won the election.

  9. Joe R. says:

    but the economy would absolutely be far, far worse if McPalin had won the election

    This is analogous to what I heard from Bush supporters in 2004. That didn’t work out so well.

    If Team Red was in the White House, and the economy was in the exact same place, Team Blue would be screaming from the rooftops that Team Red deserved to be fired.

  10. wr says:

    It didn’t work out so well for the country, but did just fine for W. In this universe, he was reelected in 04.

  11. An Interested Party says:

    In this universe, he was reelected in 04.

    Perhaps history will repeat itself and that will be the template for 2012, especially if the GOP nominates a joke…

  12. Sure the people may be worse off, but the oceans levels are receding and the planet has started healing.

  13. I’d like to see Steve Verdon write an article for OTB titled, “It’s the stupid, economy.”

  14. john personna says:

    It’s bad news for Obama, but I doubt it is technically true.

    I mean, what percentage of Americans even have an accurate net worth number for January 20th, 2009?

    I don’t have the data and I do keep pretty good records. I can tell you I am below my 2008-04-26 NW, but above the 2009-04-14 number. I’d guess that January was actually pretty close to the bottom for me, and below the April NW.

  15. john personna says:

    (What I’m saying is that most voters will conflate this question with their pre-crash position, and mentally do a 2007 versus 2011 calculation.)

  16. Hello World! says:

    Hillsky – I work for a small bank that was going to go under but we took advantage of TARP, got out of hot water, and paid the government back. Now 800 employees still have their jobs (though 350 were laid off). We never got into the subprime market and have been nationally recognized as one ofthe most socially consious lending institutions around (the majority of our loans going to cooperatives, renewable energy companies, small farmers, upstart businesses). TARP was not for bankers, though if you are pissed about BofA or the larger banks took the money and still got bonuses, I understand. TARP SAVED thousands and thousands of jobs, I don’t know why people won’t be happy about that. Additionally, to blame the President for something he did not cause is not fair, but is going to happen. Finally, would you be pissed if loans were going to people how could not afford their house just to keep them in it? Yes….keep in mind the anyone can get a loan to gt out of their balloon or subprime loan. As to whether or not their credit card debt keeps them from being able to get a loan is a different story all together.

  17. Hello World!, uh ok. But how about the hundreds of thousands of jobs that may be lost in the future because of the moral hazard of too big to fail?

  18. HelloWorld! says:

    CA…Yeay…I think that needs to be addressed, big time. But, thats not tarp, and didn’t Obama try to start up talks about too big to fail back in January? And didn’t the republicans table the talks of a bill and say he was unfriendly to business? The president can’t limit too big to fail banks, he needs congress to step in.