It started with Ronald Reagan in 1980 when he ran for president against incumbent President Jimmy Carter, and it's back big time this year in the presidential campaign. "Are you better off than four years ago?"
It's the number one question Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are asking voters and what reporters and TV anchors are asking the Obama team. It worked for Reagan, but will it work for Mitt Romney?
"There are two ways of looking at that question," Josh Marshall, publisher and editor of Talking Points Memo, told The Daily Ticker. "If you ask how have the last four years been, the answer for most people is awful. If you look back to where the country actually was four years ago…in the midst of a horrific financial crisis…we're doing a lot better than we were then."
So can the Obama campaign make that case? They're trying but anyone watching the Sunday talk shows would probably conclude they didn't make the sale.
When Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer asked Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley on Sunday, "Can you honestly say that people are better off today than they were four years ago?" O'Malley answered, "No, but that's not the question of this election," and he went on to list what voters experienced under George W. Bush—job losses, recession, budget deficits, etc.
By Monday, the Obama team had changed its tune. Vice President Joe Biden on the campaign trail said, "You want to know whether we're better off? Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive."
Marshall tells The Daily Ticker that beyond the rhetoric "this election is really about Obama versus the economy." And the economy is still struggling: car sales are rising and housing seems to have bottomed but unemployment is still stubbornly above 8 percent and manufacturing is slowing down.
This Friday the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on the job market for August, and tonight former President Bill Clinton addresses the DNC. Clinton will make the case for why President Obama is the best man to fix the sluggish economy.