Political affiliation shapes views of recession's toll
“Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Ronald Reagan’s defining closing statement during a 1980 presidential debate against incumbent Jimmy Carter has found new resonance in the 2012 race, with Republicans reviving the query, and Democrats fending off or attempting to re-frame the question.
With the economy the primary issue in the race, according to a recent Millionaire Corner survey of affluent investors, the answer could sway the election. A new Pew Research Center survey concludes that Americans do not rate their personal finances any better—or worse—than they did when the president took office. The survey further found that the responses were informed by personal income as well as partisan affiliation.
Pew, which has been tracking personal financial well-being for years, found that Americans “are feeling more punched than they were before the recession began.” Half, who responded to a November 2007 survey said they were in excellent or good shape financially. In June of this year, “41 percent rated their personal finances as excellent or good,” Pew reported.
Between November 2007 and December 2008, following the economic meltdown, the share of Americans who said they were in good financial shape dropped 12 percentage points to 38 percent. This “has neither improved nor worsened substantially over the past three-and-a-half years,” Pew said.
In a reflection of their higher average income levels, Republicans consistently rate their financial situations more positively than do Democrats or independents. But that gap has narrowed since the start of the recession. Prior to the November 2007, just over two-thirds (68 percent) of Republicans said their personal financial situation was either excellent or good, compared with 47 percent of independents and 38 percent of Democrats. In Pew’s June 2012 survey, just under half (49 percent) responded similarly, compared with 38 percent of independents and 41 percent of Democrats.
Overall, there has been little change in people’s views of their financial situations during the president’s first term. In July, 46 percent of Americans responding to another Pew survey in July said they are in worse shape now than they were before the recession, while 31 percent said they were better off, and another 21 percent there had been no change.
Pew links these evaluations to partisanship. By more than two-to-one, Republicans said they are in worse (56 percent), not better (23 percent), shape financially than they were prior to the economic collapse. Democrats were evenly split, with 39 percent saying they are in worse financial shape and 37 saying their personal situation is better.
But Americans are resiliently optimistic about their personal finances, Pew found. In its June survey, 63 percent said they thought their financial situation would improve, up from 51 percent in April 2011.
Less than half of Millionaires (45 percent) surveyed by Millionaire Corner in a first quarter wealth level study said that their financial situation is better than it was one year ago. Younger Millionaires showed the most optimism, with 56 percent saying they are better off now.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.