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WIDENING GAP

Only half of Americans say they are better off now than they were eight years ago

By Hanna Kozlowska

Only 50% of Americans feel better off financially than they did at the start of Barack Obama’s presidency eight years ago, according to a Jan. 28 Gallup survey. The dissatisfaction should give plenty of ammunition to whichever candidate emerges victorious from the impending Republican primaries.

The sense of fiscal wellbeing appears deeply divided along US party lines: 71% of Democrats say they are better off today than in 2008, compared to only 29% of Republicans.

In 2000, 73% of Americans said they were better off than in 1992, after the prosperous Bill Clinton presidency. But back then, the Republican-Democrat difference was only 16 percentage points, a suggestion that in good times, the president’s party affiliation matters less.

For Republican voters, there’s also wide age disparity: 40% of younger voters, ages 18-44, feel worse off financially than they did in 2008, whereas for Republicans who are 65, it’s a staggering 82%. To be fair, the youngest cohort would have been 10 in 2008, so chances are their piggy banks grew fatter no matter how healthy the job market was.

About half of Americans are faring well enough to save money, and 13% are running into debt.

“Whichever way one looks at it—politically or in financial terms—the US divides into two broad economic groups. One is upbeat or appearing to be thriving financially; the other is downbeat or financially struggling,” writes the study’s author, Lydia Saad. Republicans, especially the older cohort that tends to vote in the primaries, are particularly anxious about the economy, she says, which could “possibly explain the Republican front-runner’s success with his “Make America Great Again” campaign theme.”

The billionaire Donald Trump’s biggest voter base is among those earning less than $50,000 a year, and his supporters tend to be older.

The Gallup poll does not include a comparison to 2008, after George Bush’s two terms as president. Saad told Quartz that Gallup did not ask that particular question in 2008. In June 2008, however, a poll asking Americans whether they felt better off than the year before showed a record rating of dissatisfaction, with 55% of Americans saying they were worse off in 2008 than in 2007. In fact, throughout the Bush presidency, people consistently reported that they felt worse off than the year before, every year they were asked.