This week it’s the Democrats’ turn to take the main stage and officially launch the re-election campaign of President Barack Obama. As the election heats up, the question that has been the focus of much recent debate is whether Americans are better off today than they were when Obama took office. Experian Simmons® tracks economic sentiment week-by-week enabling us to examine the attitudes of American adults from January 2008 through July 2012 to get a read on where we are today and how attitudes have changed.
When asked in July of this year, “Do you think that you are better off or worse off financially now than you were 12 months ago?” 26% of U.S. adults responded “better off,” while 30% responded “worse off” and 44% responded “about the same.” Taken as a snapshot, things still look pretty glum for the pocketbooks of Americans. But when we examine the trend over time, we see that every year more and more Americans say they’re doing better, while fewer are doing worse.
Specifically, in January 2009, just before President Obama took office, only 16% of adults said they were better off financially than they were a year earlier and fully half said they were worse off. In fact, since Obama took office, there has been a relative increase of 63% when it comes to the share of the electorate who say they are financially better off. Meantime, there has been a relative decrease of 60% in the share of adults who say they are financially worse off. Both trends support the argument that Americans are better off today than they were when Obama was elected. If only things were so simple.
When it comes to personal economic outlook and that of the U.S. economy, many Americans are still uncertain. It is true that when asked in July, “Do you think that in the coming 12 months you will be better off or worse off financially than you are now?” 37% of adults say that they expect they will be better off, which is nearly double the share of Americans who say they will be worse off in the next year (19%). Furthermore, the share of adults who say they will be worse off has declined to 19% in July from a peak of 29% in January 2009. Still, since January 2010, Americans’ optimism (or pessimism) about their personal finances has remained relatively unchanged, suggesting that despite Americans increasingly reporting that they’re better off today, there is no groundswell in the belief that things will continue to improve.
Lack of confidence in the U.S. economy is likely a major driver behind this trend. In January 2012, there were more Americans who said that the American economy would be worse off in the coming year (36%) than those who predicted it will be better off (24%). Even today, pessimism outpaces optimism when it comes to our outlook towards the U.S. economy, but there is a small sign of hope. Between January and July 2012, the share of Americans who believe that the economy will be better off next year grew by a relative 8% and the share who believe it will be worse off declined by a relative 9%.
So while it seems that Americans indeed believe they are better off today than they were when they elected Obama, it’s unclear whether they have the they hope that things will continue to improve.
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Learn more about the author, John Fetto