Back in the 1980 presidential race, Republican candidate Ronald Reagan set the modern standard for gauging the economic mood of voters when he defeated incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter by asking the simple question: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"
In 2012, President Barack Obama will try to win re-election in the face of what is likely to be the highest unemployment rate for any president seeking a second term in 76 years. Not since Franklin Roosevelt won re-election in 1936 has a president faced a worse economic situation. Obama's job approval stands at 46% – below George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan a year before they were re-elected – and approval of Obama's handling of the economy is a dismal 39%.
While there have been some recent signs that the nation's economic mood is improving, the unemployment rate still stands at 8.6%. Few economic experts are predicting the jobless rate will drop to the 7.4% rate that prevailed when Ronald Regan won reelection in 1984. Moreover, household net worth dropped 1.7% over the last year; by contrast, it rose during the year before the election for every other president since 1948.
Yet, despite these numbers, Wall Street Journal/NBC News found that more people blame President Bush and Wall Street Bankers for the current economic problems than President Obama. Furtherore, 48% of Americans hold an unfavorable view of Republicans, and when voters are asked which party is better at dealing with the economy, the two parties are rated about evenly.
Weigh in: Are you better off than you were four years ago? Will President Obama be able to break from history and win re-election despite the poor economy? Why or why not?
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