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Can Obama convince voters they're better off than they were in 2008?
Romney wants voters to judge Obama on Reagan's classic "are you better off than you were four years ago?" metric. That's a question Dems may not welcome
 
When he takes the Democratic National Convention stage Thursday night, President Obama will likely try to convince Americans that the U.S. is in better shape than it was in September 2008. According to one poll, only 31 percent of the country agrees with him.
When he takes the Democratic National Convention stage Thursday night, President Obama will likely try to convince Americans that the U.S. is in better shape than it was in September 2008. According to one poll, only 31 percent of the country agrees with him.
Scott Olson/Getty images

In Mitt Romney's big speech at the Republican National Convention last week, he conceded that while President Obama can say that he inherited a lousy economy, and can ask for Americans' patience, he simply "cannot tell us that you are better off today than when he took office." The Obama campaign begs to differ. After giving "halting and contradictory responses" to the are-you-better-off question on Sunday talk shows, says Jim Rutenberg in The New York Times, Team Obama came back Monday with a strong answer of "absolutely," pointing out that four years ago the economy was in free fall and GM and Chrysler were on the brink of being sold of for scrap metal. But a new poll for The Hill suggests Obama has a tough sales pitch at this week's convention: 52 percent of respondents said the U.S. is in "worse condition" than in September 2008, versus 31 percent who say it's better. Can Obama make a persuasive case that we are, in fact, better off?

This should be an easy sell for Obama: Republicans seem really keen on nailing Obama on this question, says Robert Schlesinger at U.S. News. "Please do, GOP. It's a trap." When Obama took office, the U.S. was shedding 800,000 jobs a month and the stock market was in a ditch. Now, thanks to Obama's policies, we're slowly but surely "digging out from George W. Bush's recession." Are we better off than we were four years ago? "The answer is a no-brainer yes, and I can't think of a better person or place to give that answer than Barack Obama on Thursday night."
"America is definitely better off under Obama"

But America has already made up its mind: Democrats can spin this all they like, but the "Reagan Metric" is the kiss of death for Obama, says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. The Hill's poll shows "a stunning, broad, and deep rejection of Obama's first term," and two months isn't enough to turn that around — much less one speech. Obama simply can't run on his lousy record. "That's why Democrats dodged and weaved when asked the simple question that goes to the heart of voters' decisions." They know that "to answer this at all, either positively or negatively, turns the election into a referendum on Obama" — "a report card, if you will — which will inevitably lead to Obama flunking his final exam."
"Poll: Only 31 percent believe we're better off than four years ago"

There's more to the election than this one trope: "The 'are you better off' question may have been an indictment of Jimmy Carter, but Republican hopes notwithstanding, 2012 isn't 1980," says Jamelle Bouie at The Washington Post. Things just aren't as dire these days. Yes, Obama is clearly vulnerable, and "current conditions are on the bad side of mediocre." But Romney has to do more than play on voters' disappointment. He "has to show them that he could have made things better — and that he will make things better." So far, he hasn't.
"Why 'Are you better off?' is the wrong question for 2012"

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

 

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