Ronald Reagan made the question famous.

During the sole debate of the 1980 general election, Reagan waited until the last moment to slip his rhetorical dagger into Jimmy Carter's ribs. "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" he asked.

This was shortly before Election Day of an election that Reagan would have won anyway. But the question lingers, cropping up each time America is set to vote on a president.

According to data from Gallup released Thursday, only half of the country would say that the presidency of Barack Obama has left them better off. That's compared to nearly three-quarters who felt as though the eight years of Bill Clinton left them in a better position.


(Gallup didn't offer data on the presidency of George W. Bush, but that his tenure ended as the economy was collapsing, one can assume how America felt.)

As with all things, though, that sentiment is split on party lines. When Gallup asked in 2000, the numbers were about evenly split. Democrats and Republicans both felt as though they were better off. Now, only Democrats do.


As we noted earlier this month, part of this is likely that opinions on Obama have not budged much since he took office.


But within the parties, there's another level of stratification based on age. Older Americans in both parties are more likely than younger ones to say they feel as though they are worse off.


This isn't entirely about partisanship, in other words. A quick look at two economic indicators shows why people might feel as though not a lot of progress has been made. Comparing unemployment and work force participation from Januarty 1992 and 2008 to Jan. 2000 and 2016, respectively, you can see that unemployment now is back where we started eight years ago.

The percentage of people old enough to work who are actually working or looking for jobs, though, is much lower -- thanks in part to the retirement of Baby Boomers and a number of other reasons.


What's more, wages continue to be flat once adjusted for inflation. The number of people who are working part-time jobs for economic reasons rose from 1.1 million to 2.1 million. Between 1992 to 2000, it fell from 3 million to 1 million.

There are good reasons besides partisanship, in other words, for people to feel as though the past eight years haven't done much for them. In light of that, perhaps the framing on our headline is backward: Despite a few negative economic indicators, fully half of Americans think they're better off than they were eight years ago.