In an encouraging sign about the tenuous economic recovery – and a potentially promising one for the Obama campaign – slightly more Americans say they feel financially better off, rather than worse, compared with a year ago.
With unemployment falling to 7.8 percent as of September, the housing market finally showing signs of improvement and the U.S. stock market up more than 12 percent on the year, consumers have been feeling more optimistic about the economy. Now a poll by the Gallup Organization finds that, for the first time in more than five years, the percentage of Americans who say they feel financially stronger than they did a year ago, 38 percent, is higher than those who say they are worse off, 34 percent.
The new data doesn’t quite address what has been a key question this election season: Are Americans better off than they were four years ago? But like recent surveys of consumer confidence, the new poll results suggest that Americans are at least sensing some signs of economic improvement. In 2009, President Obama’s first year in office, 54 percent said they were worse off than they had been the previous year.
The poll numbers still hint at a squeaker of an election. The 38 percent who say they are doing better than last year is just below the levels recorded by Gallup ahead of the 1984 and 2004 elections, when presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush won reelection. In September 1984, 39 percent said they felt better and the figure was 41 percent in November 2003. But the latest results are considerably weaker than the 49 percent who said they felt better off in 1996, when Bill Clinton sailed to a second term.
At the same time, the numbers aren’t that much better than those seen in 1976 (33 percent better off), 1980 (30 percent) and 1992 (34 percent), all years when incumbent presidents were voted out of office.
The latest Gallup results also reflect a sharp partisan split, with 62 percent of Democrats saying things have improved while 55 percent of Republicans say they are worse off. Among independents, 34 percent say they are doing better, but 40 percent say they are faring worse.
Americans’ view of their financial future was more optimistic across the political spectrum, with 80 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of independents and 57 percent of Republicans expecting they’ll be doing better in a year’s time. Overall, 66 percent of those polled thought their finances would be stronger next year.
“From a longer-term perspective, the 66 percent believing they will be financially better off a year from now is on the high side of what Gallup has recorded not only in presidential years, but at any time,” the pollsters noted. “While that likely reflects Democrats' confidence in Obama, it may also reflect the hopes of some Republicans that their candidate, Mitt Romney, will be the president in a year's time.”
The results are based on telephone interviews of 1,065 adults conducted on Monday and Tuesday. The margin of error was 4 percentage points.