Are You Better Off Than You Were 4 Years Ago? How Americans See Biden and Trump's Ability to Tackle the Economy

donald trump joe biden economy
This combination of file pictures created on Monday shows Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaking in Tampa, Florida on September 15 and President Donald Trump speaking during an event for black supporters at the Cobb Galleria Centre on Friday in Atlanta. On Tuesday, the two will face off in their first presidential debate. JIM WATSON,BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty

A question Ronald Reagan posed to President Jimmy Carter in 1980 is still used to gauge the outcome of presidential elections and with the economy on people's minds as the election nears, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden face a close race to win over American people.

In the first and only debate between Reagan and Carter, the Republican challenger posed the question to voters, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" He went on to win the election in a landslide victory of 51 percent to 41 percent, and 40 years later, two other men vying for the White House will go head to head in a debate during an election year when the economy is at the forefront of the election.

Polls show the economy is one of the most important issues to voters and although Biden is favored to win, voters put their trust in Trump to handle the economy. Recent polls from NPR/PBS/Marist and ABC News/Washington Post both give Trump a 49 percent to 46 percent lead over Biden when it comes to the economy, a difference that's within the polls' margins of error.

Trump's 2016 campaign focused heavily on his ability to improve the economy for the "forgotten men and women" of America. As president, Trump experienced one of the most dramatic shifts in unemployment, going from historic lows in unemployment to the highest unemployment rate since the great depression in April. Faced with millions of people out of work because of the pandemic, Trump's championed the rapid increase in jobs seen after parts of the country reopened businesses.

"We've created the fastest economic recovery in American history. You are witnessing it. You are a part of it," Trump said on Wednesday.

donald trump joe biden economy
This combination of file pictures created on Monday shows Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaking in Tampa, Florida on September 15 and President Donald Trump speaking during an event for black supporters at the Cobb Galleria Centre on Friday in Atlanta. On Tuesday, the two will face off in their first presidential debate. JIM WATSON,BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty

Only 40 percent of those polled for the ABC News/WaPo poll described the economy as either "good" or "excellent" and a slim majority of 52 percent approved of how Trump was handling it. However, when broken down by voters who consider the economy the No. 1 issue the country faces, Trump pulls far ahead of Biden with 80 percent of voters supporting him.

Not entirely unexpected, candidates' support for their ability to tackle the economy increases among voters within their party. Democrats polled by PBS/Marist chose Biden by 87 percent and Republicans went for Trump by 97 percent. Independents were nearly evenly split, picking Biden by just one percentage point.

Differences among independents were more apparent when looking at men versus women, with an equal percentage of men—56 percent—picking Trump, as women picked Biden.

"Build Back Better," an economic plan Biden unveiled in July, focuses on bringing supply chains back to the United States, creating jobs through investments in clean energy and manufacturing. He pushed back against beliefs that production exported overseas can't be brought back, saying at an event that the future should be "made in America, all in America." Biden's stance on the economy resonated with voters in big and small cities, but Trump won over the trust of those in small towns and suburban and rural areas, the NPR/PBS/Marist poll found.

The Trump campaign and the White House capitalized on similarities between the nationalist theme of Biden's proposal and the president's "America First" agenda. Then–counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway told reporters that Biden considered "Buy American" is a "very popular" policy position, something they "already know" because "that's how the president got elected."

When it comes to the two politicians' plans for tackling the economy, the economic outlook is strongest under a Biden presidency and Democratic Congress, Moody's Analytics found. Democrats taking control of the Senate and the House of Representatives would have the highest number of jobs added, an increase of about 7.4 million, and the best rebound in economic growth.

As is the case with national trends, voters in key swing states also trust Trump more than Biden on the economy. However, it's far from the only indicator of how a person votes and the Democratic challenger holds a lead over Trump nationally to win the election.