The question Ronald Reagan famously used during his 1980 campaign for president, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" is still being asked by many, including Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
In a new survey conducted by the Siena (College) Research Institute (SRI) on behalf of First Niagara Bank, 36 percent of Pennsylvania residents said they are better off today than they were four years ago, but 42 percent say they are not. 21 percent of respondents indicated their financial condition is unchanged.
“Money: It’s what we think about when we’re in our car," said institute director Don Levy. "It’s what we think about, talk about, sitting around our kitchen table, so this survey then gives us a really good feel about how people are actually doing,”
For example he said, pollsters like to ask questions about optimism, such as ‘in a year from now, do you think you’ll be better off financially or just about the same?’ or ‘how do you feel about the coming year?’ He said a positive response used to be up around 50-57 percent, but is now down to around 20%.
Levy said for years they've been asking a "forced choice" question for example requiring those surveyed to select between two statements that describe feelings about the economy: 'the current economic problems our country are facing are temporary our economy is strong, we’ll make adjustments, and return to financial health,' or 'unfortunately, I think our country’s best economic days are behind us and I’m afraid the next generation will have to accept a lower standard of living.'
Levy said he was very surprised by the pessimistic response. "Only 35% of people said that they thought we were going to adjust and return to financial health. 60% of people said our country’s best economic days are behind us. I really anticipated that we would see that change this year.”
Two years ago, it was 48 percent positive and 49 percent negative.
The personal finances survey is part of a larger study of economic confidence in Pennsylvania. In January, the fourth annual First Niagara Survey of Pennsylvania Business Leaders will be released. It's an investigation of confidence, plans and attitudes towards government by CEO’s of the state's private for profit companies.