It happened during the final presidential debate of 1980. Ronald Reagan was running against President Jimmy Carter.
After four years of the Carter presidency, both inflation and unemployment were considerably worse than at the time of his inauguration. The annual inflation rate rose from 4.8% in 1976 to 6.8% in 1977, 9% in 1978, 11% in 1979, and hovered around 12% at the time of the 1980 election campaign. Although Carter had pledged to eliminate federal deficits, the deficit for the fiscal year 1979 totaled $27.7 billion, and that for 1980 was nearly $59 billion. With approximately 8 million people out of work, the unemployment rate had leveled off to a nationwide average of about 7.7% by the time of the election campaign, but it was considerably higher in some industrial states.
On April 17, 1980, Carter announced that the economy was in recession, with the inflation rates hitting ten percent and interest rates climbing to eighteen percent.
So, at the debate, Reagan asked a devastating question.
Carter would go on to lose to Reagan decisively in November 1980, 51%-41% and 489-49 in the Electoral College.
Conditions and circumstances were different in 1980 compared to 2020. But that dagger of a debate question remains the same.
It’s one of the most under-reported stories of 2020. Gallup asked voters.
Here’s what they found.