It started with a debate point by Ronald Reagan in 1980. Here's what he said (see the attached YouTube video to hear it):
Next Tuesday is Election Day. Next Tuesday all of you will go to the polls, will stand there in the polling place and make a decision. I think when you make that decision, it might be well if you would ask yourself, are you better off 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? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we're as strong as we were four years ago? And if you answer all of those questions yes, why then, I think your choice is very obvious as to whom you will vote for. If you don't agree, if you don't think that this course that we've been on for the last four years is what you would like to see us follow for the next four, then I could suggest another choice that you have.
The question comes up now every four years. Pundits leaped when a supporter of President Barack Obama — Maryland's Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley — fumbled the question during an interview on CBS This Morning a few weeks ago. No, he said, but that's not the question of this election.
Later, the Obama campaign came back strong and amended its answer, claiming in ads that "The middle class is carrying a heavy load in America, but Romney doesn’t see it." And they sent Vice President Joe Biden out to remind Americans that "Osama bin Laden is dead and GM is alive."
Those facts notwithstanding, the Romney campaign doesn't answer that question the same way. Mitt Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, even says Jimmy Carter — the president Reagan's unseated in 1980 — showed more leadership than Obama.
How do you see it? Are you better off now than you were four years ago? Is that the right question to ask this time around?