Jay Livingston over at Montclair Socioblog reports on a report by the Pew Center. First this image:

Jay writes:

When Reagan asked this question in the 1980 presidential debates, most people, according to Gallup felt that yes, they were better off – 52% vs. 25% who felt they were worse off. That’s puzzling, considering the apparent success of Reagan’s question – he won the election handily.

The interesting result from the Gallup numbers is that when Reagan left office – after the “Reagan recovery” cherished by anti-tax, anti-regulation conservatives – the numbers were identical. If you look at actual changes in median family income, you see a slight decline in the Carter years and an increase in the Reagan years. But these changes aren’t reflected in how people felt, at least not as measured by Gallup.

This year’s numbers show optimism at its lowest ebb since Gallup started asking the question in 1964. “Better off” still tops “worse off,” but by only 41% to 31%. Even more surprising to me was the proportion of these self-identified middle-class Americans who rate their quality of life as low (five or less on a ten-point scale).