Donald Lambro

Are you better off than you were four years ago?

That is the politically pivotal question that will ultimately determine the outcome of the 2012 presidential election.

This of course was the question former governor Ronald Reagan posed in his 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter. The answer was a landslide that swept Carter out of office after just one term and launched what was to become one of the most transformative presidencies in modern American history.

It's a question former governor Mitt Romney is likely to pose to the voters when he debates Barack Obama whose troubled presidency bears striking similarities to Carter's.

When Reagan posed the question about his rival, he said voters should ask themselves "Is it easier for you to go 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?"

Thirty-two years later, Romney's list of economic and fiscal questions will be much longer than the basic bread-and-butter problems Reagan recited.

Here's a sampling of the major issues, drawn up by The Weekly Standard, that Romney may include when he asks voters if they are better off now than they were when they went to the polls in November of 2008 to elect Obama:

-- The unemployment rate: 6.8 percent in November of 2008 and 8.2 percent now and rising in at least 22 states.

-- The national poverty rate: 13.2 percent then, and 15.1 percent now.

-- Americans on food stamps: 30.9 million then, 44.7 million now.

-- A gallon of regular gasoline: $2.40 then, $3.60 now.

-- Homeownership rate: 67.8 percent then, 65.4 percent now.

-- The percentage of Americans without health insurance: 16 percent then, and 17.7 percent now.

-- America's median household income: $50,203 then,$49,445 now.

-- The number of Americans participating in the labor force: 65.8 percent then, but now down to 63.8 percent because millions of discouraged job seekers have stopped looking for work.

-- The annual budget deficit: $459 billion in fiscal 2008, but $1.32 trillion in fiscal 2012.

-- The federal debt: $10.57 trillion then, $15.69 trillion now.

-- The number of civilian federal employes: 2.67 million then, 2.75 million now.

One number that will undoubtedly come up in this fall's presidential debates will be Obama's preposterous claim at a White House news conference on the economy that "the private sector is doing fine," while federal, state and local government employes were the ones most in need of a federal assistance to prevent further layoffs.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.