Ronald Reagan famously urged voters during his 1980 campaign against then-President Jimmy Carter to ask themselves: "Are you better off now than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago?"
Those simple, straightforward questions captured the attention of the American people.
And judging from Reagan's landslide victory in the election, it is apparent that many Americans realized they were not better off under Carter's leadership.
That brings us to 2011, just a little over a year from the next presidential election.
President Barack Obama is virtually certain to be the Democrat candidate again, and he will be challenged by one of several current GOP contenders. The challenger may be former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, or perhaps Texas Gov. Rick Perry or another of the Republican hopefuls. That has yet to be determined by the primaries and caucuses.
But whoever the GOP nominee turns out to be, he will be able to ask the same questions that Reagan asked more than 30 years ago. So let's consider them one by one:
• "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"
Certainly many people will debate that point. The U.S. economy entered a recession at the very end of 2007 -- about four years ago. But Obama himself recently acknowledged that the economy is now in a recession, too. Plus there have been millions of home foreclosures during Obama's time in office, and 70 percent more Americans use food stamps today than used them four years ago. Do you feel better off?
• "Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago?"
Decide for yourself: In recent months, "food and gas prices spiked, and those higher costs forced people to cut back on discretionary items, such as vacations, appliances and computers," The Associated Press noted. Between high prices and stagnant wages, we doubt most Americans find it easier to make purchases these days.
• "Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago?"
On this question, America is surely worse off under Obama. Unemployment was 4.7 percent in September 2007. But in September 2011, it was 9.1 percent. And it has been well above 8 percent for almost the entirety of the Obama administration. Worse still, millions of Americans have been unemployed long term, and unemployment benefits have had to be extended repeatedly.
It is obvious that Americans in 2011 are not better off overall than they were four years ago.
With Election Day not too far off, the president's window of opportunity for proposing policies that could begin to turn things around in time to help him in 2012 is closing fast.
But he appears unlikely to reverse his course of big spending and heavy borrowing.