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Are You Better Off? Americans Split on Question

Here’s a summary of recent polling evidence on the two big questions of this election:

Are You Safer? Most Americans believe that there will be another terrorist attack on American soil. In the polls, about 20 percent say they are very worried about that prospect.

In an Aug. 23-25 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 41 percent said that we as a country are more safe than we were before Sept. 11, 2001, 31 percent say we’re about as safe, and 27 percent say we are less safe.[IMGCAP(1)]

In an Aug. 15-18 CBS News poll, 51 percent of those surveyed said the policies of the Bush administration had made the United States safer from terrorism and 24 percent said less safe. Nineteen percent said the administration’s work had had no effect on the country’s safety. In September 2003 and March 2004, around 60 percent said Bush policies had made the country safer.

In a mid-July Pew poll, 18 percent said the U.S. government was doing very well in reducing the threat of terrorism, 53 percent somewhat well, 17 percent not too well and 8 percent not well at all. In June 2002, 76 percent said the government was doing very or somewhat well.

Thirty-eight percent in the new NBC News/WSJ poll said President Bush had the right policy on terrorism and should move ahead, 20 percent said he had the right policy but it needed some minor adjustments, 21 percent a questionable policy that needed major adjustments and 19 percent the wrong policy that needed to be changed.

Views on the Iraq war’s contribution to the war on terror appear to reflect divisions on the war itself. In late July, 51 percent told ABC News/Washington Post pollsters that the war with Iraq had contributed to the long-term security of the United States, but 45 percent said it had not. In mid-August, 45 percent told Pew Research Center interviewers that the war in Iraq had helped the war on terror, but 44 percent said it had hurt it. In a mid-August CBS News poll, 43 percent said the threat of terrorism had increased as a result of U.S. military action against Iraq, while 40 percent said it had stayed about the same, and 16 percent said it had decreased.

Fifty-four percent in an Aug. 26-29 ABC News/Washington Post poll said that the war with Iraq had contributed to the long-term security of the United States, while 42 percent said it had not.

A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll taken Aug. 24-25 found that 50 percent believed U.S. military action in Iraq had been an important contribution to fighting the war on terror, and 40 percent said it had not.

Are You Better Off? Five pollsters have recently asked different versions of the question Ronald Reagan made famous in the 1980 presidential campaign. In a Los Angeles Times poll taken July 17-21, a quarter said that they were better off than they were when Bush became president, 25 percent worse and 48 percent about the same. Forty-five percent of Republicans compared to 13 percent of Democrats and 17 percent of independents said they were better off.

Forty-one percent told Fox News/Opinion Dynamics pollsters in July 20-21 interviewing that they were better off financially than they were four years ago, and 32 percent said they were worse off. The poll didn’t offer the category “about the same,” but 26 percent volunteered it nonetheless. In March, the responses were 40 percent, 35 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

An Aug. 26-29 ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 14 percent felt that “most Americans” were better off financially than they were when Bush became president, 46 percent not as well off, and 39 percent in about the same financial shape.

Twenty-four percent told CBS News in July 30-Aug. 1 interviewing that their families were better off than they were four years ago, 28 percent said worse and 46 percent about the same. Those results were better than the June ones (16 percent, 27 percent and 56 percent, respectively).

Using a narrower time frame, an Aug. 15-17 bipartisan Battleground poll found that 28 percent say they and their families are better off than a year ago, 20 percent worse and 51 percent about the same. When asked about expectations a year from now, 44 percent expected to be better off, 4 percent worse, and 44 percent about the same.

Karlyn Bowman is a resident fellow specializing in public opinion and polls at the American Enterprise Institute.