Well, today we have evidence that this same question could be a potent one in 2008, just as it was in 1980. The New York Times reports:
Americans are more dissatisfied with the country’s direction than at any time since the New York Times/CBS News poll began asking about the subject in the early 1990s, according to the latest poll.
In the poll, 81 percent of respondents said they believed “things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track,” up from 69 percent a year ago and 35 percent in early 2002.
A majority of nearly every demographic and political group — Democrats and Republicans, men and women, residents of cities and rural areas, college graduates and those who finished only high school — say the United States is headed in the wrong direction. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said the country was worse off than five years ago; just 4 percent said it was better off.
Breaking this dissatisfaction down a bit, we've got 71% of Americans concerned about health care costs, 69% about housing costs, and 82% about having enough money for retirement.
As if to emphasize the poll's findings, the economic news this morning was not encouraging:
The economy shed 80,000 jobs in March, the third consecutive month of rising unemployment, presenting a stark sign that the country may already be in a recession.
“Three months in a row of payroll job losses and a sizable negative revision: these are clear signs that the job market is in recession,” said Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Economics Policy Institute. “I’m hard-pressed to imagine anyone who would raise doubt to that at this point.”
In short, the The Bush-Republican economy is in freefall, yet their response is to do nothing. In February, for instance, they opposed extending unemployment insurance, even as around 200,000 Americans have lost private sector jobs in the first three months of the year.
In March, Republicans blocked consideration of legislation to address the housing crisis and the foreclosure explosion. That's bad enough, but Republicans weren’t even willing to offer their own solutions, they just blocked the Democratic solutions from coming to a vote. As they did so, the number of homes in foreclosure and mortgages behind in payment were jumping in every state, further driving down home values.
Faced with increasingly dire economic news this month, Republicans have (finally) agreed to consider a scaled-back version of a bill to address the mortgage crisis, but only after insisting on replacing assistance for homeowners with bailouts for home builders who made bad investment decisions.
The bottom line is that Bush-Republican economic policies don't work for the middle class in this country. Instead, the Bush-Republican economy means falling wages, lost jobs, rising prices, foreclosed houses, and record debt. And, of course, Republican "trickle-down" never seems to actually trickle down from the super-rich to everyone else.
Obviously, this is a "change" year politically, one in which people will be looking for a new approach and a new hand on the tiller. The question is, who will be most credible -- John McCain (and GOP congressional candidates like Frank Wolf) or the Democratic nominee (and Democratic congressional candidates like Judy Feder) -- when THEY ask, as Ronald Reagan did in 1980, "Are you better off today than you were when this Administration took office?" Given that John McCain and Frank Wolf offer nothing but the same old Bush-Republican economic policies, it's a good bet that it won't be them.