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Barack ObamaWASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Monday that Americans are not better off than they were four years ago as the struggling U.S. economy and high unemployment have taken a toll.

Looking ahead to next year’s election, the incumbent called himself the underdog in the 2012 presidential campaign though he said he doesn’t mind the label. The Democrat said it’s a role that he is used to.

In an interview with ABC News, Obama was asked how he planned to convince people they’re better off now than they were four years ago — the formulation Ronald Reagan famously used to defeat President Jimmy Carter in 1980.

“I don’t think that they’re better off than they were four years ago,” Obama said. “They’re not better off than they were before Lehman’s collapse, before the financial crisis, before this extraordinary recession that we’re going through. I think that what we’ve seen is that we’ve been able to make steady progress to stabilize the economy but the unemployment rate is still way too high.”

The president says the next election is going to be about who the American public believes shares their vision for the future. He says he believes the American people still back his approach to governing, even if he hasn’t always been able to get his measures passed in Congress.

Recent polls show Obama’s public approval ratings holding steady in the low 40 percent range.

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