In a series of polls between May 10 and 14, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies posed a classic election question to respondents in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin: “Thinking back to where your position in life was four years ago, which of the following best describes your position now relative to back then?” The chart below displays what respondents told us:
Between 35% and 38% of respondents across the six swing states consider themselves to be in a better position today than they were four years ago. Conversely, between 25% and 27% of respondents in five of the states think they are worse off today, with the exception being North Carolina, where only 20% of respondents said they consider themselves to be worse off today. Overall, between 9% and 11% more respondents (18% percent, in North Carolina’s rare case) consider themselves to be better off today than those who consider themselves to be worse off—a significant gap.
Although the four-year framing––not to mention the familiarity––of the question invites respondents to think about how the Trump presidency and its policies have impacted them, it also would ideally allow respondents to consider their own personal circumstances, including their professional development or their health. However, regardless of whether respondents think their life has improved because of, or despite, President Trump’s policies, respondents also know that a general sense of life improving will likely to benefit the incumbent candidate than the challenger in the upcoming election on the 3rd of November.
As such, across the six swing states, respondents who voted for Trump in 2016 were far more likely to say their lives have improved over the past four years than respondents who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. For example, in Wisconsin, 61% of 2016 Trump voters think they are in a better position now, whereas only 14% of Clinton voters think they are in a better position now than four years ago. Conversely, only 8% of 2016 Trump voters in Wisconsin said their lives are worse off now than four years ago, compared to 39% of 2016 Clinton voters who consider their position in life to have deteriorated in the span of those four years. Although these numbers are drawn from Wisconsin, a similar pattern is evident in the other five states: those who voted for Trump in 2016 are significantly more likely to think their lives have improved in the past four years than those who voted for Clinton.
This difference in interpretation, of course, could be genuine. Trump’s policies may have favoured and improved the lives of those who voted for him more so than it did for others. More likely, Trump supporters are motivated to think their lives have improved in the last four years, while his detractors are motivated to think their lives have worsened or simply not improved in the last four years. If there is widespread disagreement on whether, in which direction and to what extent things have changed for American voters, then there unfortunately can be less substantive discussion on whether or not the policies and decisions of a political party in power should be credited (if there has been positive change) or blamed (if there has been negative change) for contributing to such changes in wellbeing.
This disparity on what would ordinarily be a simple question where one may have expected more widespread agreement and honesty from respondents highlights the different realities people in the United States are now experiencing. That a strong economy re-elects an incumbent and a poor economy elects an incumbent’s opponent was once an accepted truism. Given these disparities among respondents within all six swing states, this truism could easily go out the window in November.