US presidential election 2020

FT-Peterson US Economic Monitor:
Are Americans better off than they were four years ago?

The Financial Times, in partnership with the Peterson Foundation, tracks US voter sentiment about the economy and more ahead of the 2020 election
Line chart of FT-Peterson US Economic Monitor poll respondents (%) showing Do Americans feel better off since Donald Trump became president?

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.

Line chart of FT-Peterson US Economic Monitor poll respondents (%) showing Do Americans feel better off since Donald Trump became president?

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.

Line chart of FT-Peterson poll showing 46 per cent of voters believe Donald Trump's policies have hurt the economy

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.

line chart of FT-Peterson US Economic Monitor poll showing 'a potential slowdown in the global economy' is now Americans' biggest concern

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.

Bar charts showing Americans have changed their behaviour significantly since February, including wearing a face mask, avoiding public places, etc.

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.

bar chart showing Democrats are more likely than Republicans to make changes to everyday activities as a result of Covid-19

Complete poll results

Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding
DateBetter off (%)Worse off (%)No change (%)Download data
Oct 8-11323236
Sep 9-14353531
Aug 5-9333334
June 23-29372934
May 20-26362935
April 23-27343036
Mar 24-29372935
Feb 20-23382933
Jan 21-26352936
Dec 16-22372835
Nov 19-24343135
Oct 21-25343133

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.

Full details of the survey methodology

Development: Fan Fei and Cale Tilford

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