This is the worst year ever, right? Everyone’s counting down the days till 2020 is history, right? Pandemic, racial strife, economic collapse, unprecedented division?
That’s 2020, right?
But wait. The highly respect Gallup Poll, which has been around forever and can’t be dismissed as skewed the way a Fox or CNN poll can, reported an astonishing finding this week.
Gallup reported that 56% of Americans say they are better off now than they were in 2016.
That is — by a substantial margin — the highest on record. The organization has asked the question five times, during years when a president is running for re-election.
Thirty-two percent said they were worse off now than in 2016.
The poll stems from the question candidate Ronald Reagan asked the voters in 1980 as he challenged President Jimmy Carter:
“Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”
Clearly, they were not, and they sent Carter packing. Gallup polled registered voters on the same question four years later.
The astute among you (and I suspect that is all of you) realize that how a question is worded is crucial to getting an unbiased result.
The question pollsters ask:
“I would like you to compare your situation today with what it was four years ago. Are you better off today or not?”
In 1984, with Reagan running for re-election, 44% of the respondents said they were better off than in 1980.
You would think that would bode poorly for Reagan, but he won in a landslide over Walter Mondale.
Only 38% said they were better off in 1992 than in 1988, and President George H.W. Bush was swept from office by Bill Clinton.
The number was 45% for President George W. Bush in 2004 (he won re-election over John Kerry) and 44% for President Barack Obama (re-elected over John McCain).
Curiously, they do not show a number for Bill Clinton in his re-election bid in 1996.
President Donald Trump, then, is the first to crack the 50% mark. Yet, his approval ratings are well below that number.
What’s going on?
It might be indicative of what some of us have been saying about Trump for four years: Can’t stand the guy personally, but if you can set aside all the stupid things he says, he has done some good things that get overshadowed.
Median household incomes hit a record high last year, unemployment — including for minorities — was at or near record lows before the pandemic. No new wars. ISIS seriously depleted. The most significant Middle East peace agreements in 25 years. Record high stock market (which helps middle class retirements). Prison reform. Crackdown on human traffickers.
Imagine what the “Better Off” response would have been without the pandemic.
The same poll shows voters agree with Trump’s policies 49% to 46% over challenger Joe Biden’s.
Yet it also shows more respondents think Biden has presidential qualities than does Trump (49-44). And Biden is leading the race is every poll I have seen.
The poll was conducted Sept. 14-28, before the presidential debate and Trump’s Coronavirus diagnosis.
All of that aside, the main question remains how can so many people feel better off this year? Even if you still have a job, you are limited in where you can go and what you can do because of pandemic restrictions.
Maybe the ones who said they were better off have turned the TV news off.
William P. Warford’s column appears every Friday and Sunday.