September 3, 2012 by David K. Sutton
The Question: Are You Better Off Now Than You Were Four Years Ago?
If there is one line that Republicans would like to see permeate beyond last week’s Republican National Convention and into this week’s Democratic National Convention and beyond, it would be the question: Are you better off now than you were four years ago? This of course is the famous Ronald Reagan question during his closing remarks at the close of a 1980 presidential debate. It defined that election and Republicans would like it to define this election.
The question is flawed, yet that flaw is what makes it so effective. The flaw is that people have a tendency to dwell on the negatives and dismiss the positives, and not just when it comes to the economy. It’s simply human nature. And people will especially dwell on the negative if that negative is highly personal like a job or level of income. Even if things are slightly better, people still might say “No” to this question. This is why Republicans have no problem with this question. It’s a tough sell for the Obama campaign to get people to see that the economy is improved if their own situation is little improved or worse.
But by any measure, the economy is much improved compared to four years ago when we were losing nearly a million jobs per month and GM and Chrysler were standing at the edge of a cliff. Four years later over 4 million jobs have been created since the economy hit rock bottom. GM and Chrysler were saved and are now outperforming expectations. But if your particular job situation is worse or little improved you might feel compelled to dwell on the negative and answer the question “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” with a resounding: No!
This presents a problem for the Obama campaign and their surrogates and it showed over the weekend when they were asked this question. David Plouffe was on This Week and he dodged the question. He wouldn’t say “Yes” or “No,” and instead wanted to explain it. I understand that this question is difficult to answer for the Obama team, but if you are responding to a poll (showing nearly 70% answer this question with: No) instead of shaping the poll then you will always be on the losing side. Since there is no good answer to this question for the Obama campaign that means they need to answer it with: Yes. They need to say “Yes” and then explain why the economy is improving and why it will continue to improve with Barack Obama as president. Any other answer to this question by Obama surrogates is a win for Republicans.