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More Americans Feeling Better Off Financially Than Worse

Positive attitude falls short of Clinton-era high; on par with 1984, 2004 election years

| BY Donald Liebenson

Slightly more Americans are feeling financially better off, rather than worse off, compared with a year ago, according to a Gallup poll released Thursday. The Thirty-eight percent of Americans now saying they are financially better off than a year ago (vs. 34 percent who say they are not) is the highest Gallup has recorded since October 2007.

This represents a significant improvement since May 2009, during President Barack Obama’s first year as president, when 54 percent said they were worse off financially, Gallup found.

But Americans are not as positive today about their personal finances as they were in March 1996 before Bill Clinton won a second term. Nearly half (49 percent) reported feeling financially better off, the highest Gallup has seen in a year in which an incumbent president runs for re-election.

The 38 percent of Americans feeling better off today is on par with what Gallup recorded before the 1984 and 2004 elections, when Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, respectively, each won their second terms. Thirty-nine percent said they felt financially better off in September 1984, while 41 percent said likewise in November 2003.

Incumbent presidents did not fare as well in three elections when Americans were less upbeat about their finances. In 1976, 33 percent felt better financially better off, and Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford. In 1980, 30 percent felt better off and Carter lost to Reagan. In 1992, 34 percent were upbeat about their finances and George H.W. Bush lost to Clinton.

Not surprisingly in an election year, declarations of better off-ness have a highly partisan ring to them. Six-in-ten Democrats said they are financially better off than they were a year ago, compared with 16 percent of Republicans and 34 percent of Independents. Conversely, 9 percent of Democrats said they are worse off compared with 55 percent of Republicans and 40 percent of Independents.

Despite what Gallup found to be “tepid” evaluations of their current finances overall, two-thirds of respondents said they are optimistic their financial situations will be better a year from now.

Affluent households surveyed by Millionaire Corner last month are nearly split on the “better off” question with 52 percent saying they are better off than they were a year ago and 48 percent saying they are not. Again, not surprisingly, wealth level is a factor in their financial outlook. Households earning less than $100,000, for example, were the least likely to say they were better off now, while those with a net worth exceeding $1 million were the most likely to say they were.

Those with the most upbeat outlooks on their financial situation gave the most credit to the improved performance of their investments (31 percent). Naysayers blamed what they perceive to be a worsening economy (57 percent).

The Millionaire Corner survey found that people under the age of 40 were slightly less upbeat about their financial situation, with less than half (48.5 percent) stating they are better off than they were a year ago, compared to the 52 percent overall.

And yet in a separate wealth level study conducted earlier this year, younger households expressed the most optimism that their financial situations would improve in the coming year.

About the Author

Donald Liebenson

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.