FT-Peterson US Economic Monitor: Are Americans better off than they were four years ago?

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The monthly FT-Peterson US Economic Monitor tracks voter sentiment towards the US economy ahead of the presidential election in November.

The poll’s headline question takes its cue from Ronald Reagan. During the 1980 campaign in which he defeated incumbent Jimmy Carter, Reagan asked voters: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” With the economy in a recession, most answered “no,” and Reagan won in a landslide. Since then, the “better off” question has been seen as a crucial litmus test for a president’s re-election prospects.

According to the latest FT-Peterson survey, conducted between August 5 and 9, one-third of likely voters say they are not better off financially than they were at the start of Mr Trump’s presidency, the highest number since the FT began asking the question last October. Answers to the “better off” question fall squarely along partisan lines.

The latest poll shows 52 per cent of Democrats believe they are worse off since Mr Trump became president; 11 per cent of Republicans do, up from 7 per cent during the last survey.

Have Trump’s economic policies helped or hurt the US economy?

The new poll found that 48 per cent believed Mr Trump’s policies had helped the economy, while 44 per cent said they believed Mr Trump’s policies had hurt the economy.

Here, too, respondents are divided along party lines. 14 per cent of Democrats say Mr Trump’s policies have helped the economy; 90 per cent of Republicans do.

Coronavirus has realigned voters’ concerns and behaviour

Americans have become more alarmed about the state of the global economy since the coronavirus outbreak began.

When the poll was first introduced in October, voters said the number one threat to the US economy voters was tensions with major trading partners such as China and Mexico, with rising healthcare costs a close second.

Trade disputes are now a distant fourth, and healthcare costs are a (slightly less) distant second.

The top concern is now a potential global slowdown, with almost three in ten believing it to be the single biggest threat to the US economy, compared with just 13 per cent in October.

Americans have also changed their behaviour drastically as a result of the pandemic. In February, the poll showed only 13 per cent said the outbreak caused them to change their everyday activities. That figure is now 71 per cent.

Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they’ve changed their behaviour in response to the pandemic, though the gap has slightly narrowed since March.