During the 1980 presidential campaign, then-candidate Ronald Reagan struck the killing blow to President Jimmy Carter’s chances for re-election by asking voters a simple question. While addressing the audience at the two candidates’ only debate, he intoned: “Next Tuesday all of you will go to the polls, will stand there in the polling place and make a decision. I think when you make that decision, it might be well if you would ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago?”
A recent Gallup poll revealed that, despite a nationwide pandemic and a troubled economy, most Americans believe they are doing better today than they were four years ago. But will the Reagan principle work for Trump the way it worked for the Gipper?
Majority of Americans Say They Are Better Off Today
In September, Gallup asked voters the same question that Reagan asked in 1980. As poll after poll shows former Vice President Joe Biden far ahead of Trump, the pollster’s results seem shocking. In a survey conducted Sept. 14-28, the organization asked more than 1,000 voters “to compare your situation today with what it was four years ago. Are you better off than you were four years ago or not?”
The findings revealed that 56% of respondents indicated that they were better off. Only 32% indicated that they were not.
It is important to note that when President Barack Obama was re-elected, the same poll found 45% believed that they were better off than four years prior. President George W. Bush won re-election, as 47% of participants answered in the affirmative. When President George H.W. Bush sought re-election and lost, only 38% of individuals stated they were in a better situation.
Interestingly enough, Gallup also found that voter enthusiasm is much higher than usual this election season, writing:
“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 previous campaigns, including a late October 2008 reading and a reading right after the 2004 Democratic convention.”
How Will This Apply to Trump?
After getting Americans to compare their current circumstance to their previous situation, before Carter took office, Reagan handily won the election. In this case, voters answered his question with an emphatic “no,” and their retort made the president’s question a barometer that is used to this day.
In 2020, the answer to the question is clearly “yes,” if Gallup’s poll is accurate. And it is noteworthy that respondents would feel this way given the situation the nation is in at present. Fears about the COVID-19 pandemic are still high. Racial tensions are at a fever pitch. Civil unrest persists in cities like Seattle and Portland. The economy, while recovering, has taken a tremendous hit.
These factors could contribute to a Biden victory, especially if American voters do not attribute their better circumstances to Trump. The president currently underperforms with key demographics, such as suburban women. If these individuals believe other forces contributed to their positive standing, it might be easier for them to pull the lever for the former vice president.
Conversely, voters could also believe that their improved station was at least somewhat related to the Trump presidency, which produced tremendous economic growth and plummeting unemployment numbers. These individuals might not connect the pandemic and civil unrest to Trump. Indeed, it seems that only Democrats insist that each and every coronavirus death is the president’s fault — but if enough voters see through that obvious deception, their better standing might motivate them to give him another four years.
Read more from Jeff Charles.
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