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 final monthly FT-Peterson survey before the presidential election, conducted between October 8 and 11, 32% of likely voters say they are better off financially than they were at the start of Mr Trump’s presidency — the lowest total since the poll began 12 months ago.
Answers to the “better off” question fall along partisan lines. The latest poll shows 53 per cent of Democrats believe they are worse off since Mr Trump became president; 9 per cent of Republicans do.
Have Trump’s economic policies helped or hurt the US economy?
The new poll found that 46 per cent believed Mr Trump’s policies had hurt the economy, compared to 44 per cent who said the policies had helped. It was the first time this year that a larger share of respondents said the president’s economic policies had hurt rather than helped.
Here, too, respondents are divided along party lines. 11 per cent of Democrats say Mr Trump’s policies have helped the economy; 83 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 last year, voters said the number one threat to the US economy voters was tensions with major trading partners such as China and Mexico.
Trade disputes are now a distant fourth.
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 last year. Rising healthcare costs are a close second, with 26 per cent saying that was their biggest concern — a sharp increase on the previous month.
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 64 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.
The FT-Peterson US Economic Monitor polls are conducted online by Global Strategy Group, a Democratic polling firm, and North Star Opinion Research, a Republican group, on behalf of the Financial Times and the Peter G Peterson Foundation.