Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

  Are you better off now?

It's a classic question to ask voters in a presidential election: Are you better off now than you were 4 (or 8) years ago?

Usually voters understand that to mean "better off economically", and this year even before the country's precipitous financial meltdown voters resoundingly were saying "no". A Pew poll in April found that "fewer Americans now than at any time in the past half century believe they're moving forward in life".

They're right. Since 2000 and 2007 the median household income in the US actually declined slightly (in terms of 2007 dollars). The question cuts against John McCain. Consistently this fall, voters who feel insecure financially have favored Barack Obama over McCain. It's an especially awkward question for Republicans because the vast majority of swing states have seen a decline in the median household income under George W. Bush.

As the 'Facts&Stats' page at the AFL-CIO website documents, median household income has declined between 2000 and 2007 in each of the following states that were up for grabs this year (via Desert Beacon):

  • Missouri -15.3%

  • Minnesota -11.1%

  • Michigan -9.9&

  • North Carolina -5.7%

  • Wisconsin -5.5%

  • Ohio -5.1%

  • Pennsylvania -4.6%

  • Indiana -3.6%

  • Georgia -3.6%

  • Florida -2.1%

  • Nevada -1.9%

  • Arizona -1.4%

  • Iowa -0.9%

Only three swing states (Virginia, New Mexico, and Colorado) have seen even so much as modest growth (between 4.2% and 5.3%) in median household income during the period 2000-2007. So it's fair to say that this presidential election has been fought out in states where the majority of voters are worse off economically than 8 years ago.

The economic yardstick is not the only one, of course, that voters could use to measure whether they're better off after George Bush's two terms. They could also consider the nation's finances with the trillions more in debt they'll have to pay off someday. Or think about US military strength, much degraded by years of fruitless war. Or the war on poverty, in retreat. Or America's reputation in the world, now at perhaps its lowest ebb ever. Or respect at home for governmental institutions, ditto. Or the tone of national discourse, as raw and tense as the McCarthy era. Or the national infrastructure, crumbling. Or the rule of law, ditto. Or civil liberties. Or the housing market. Or the safety of food and drugs. Or the condition of the environment. Or climate change.

By nearly all the measurements that matter most to people's lives, a great many voters are far worse off in very substantive ways than they were when Republicans took over the White House in 2001. I suspect that's why John McCain has never bothered this year to ask the public:

Are you better off now than you were eight years ago?

crossposted at

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