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Some polls remind us that Americans give some odd answers

The majority of U.S. voters think the 2016 election matters more than the previous ones.

But in 2012, voters said that election mattered the most.

And in 2008, voters said that election mattered the most.

In nearly every election for the past two decades, Americans have thought that election was one for the ages, according to data from Gallup. In its latest poll released this week, 71 percent said this election was the most important. That number has been at least 70 percent for the last several elections.

Generally, the party that's not in the White House thinks the election is even more important. No surprise this year, 80 percent of Republicans versus 69 percent of Democrats put the 2016 contest at the top of their all-time list.

Gallup also found that this feeling of importance tends to drive turnout. If that's true, we should expect to see a similar turnout number as in the past three presidential elections, around 60 percent.

The strange part about this phenomenon is the fact that the current moment is always more important than the past. Over time, that just can't possibly be true, as the arc of history simply doesn't get more important in a single unchanging direction forever. Sure, this year's election is happening now to the people being asked, and this is where a me-first attitude tends to dominate.

But it's certainly not the only answer with such a self-centered world view.

I'll be fine, but everybody else isn't

A variety of other polls and surveys have found that Americans tend to be much more confident in their own personal economic situation than they are about the actual economy.

For example, a recent survey from political marketing firm Fluent found that 80 percent of Americans think their own personal financial future is going in the right direction. Yet 73 percent thought the nation's economy was headed in the wrong direction.


Similarly, data from CNBC's All-America Economic Survey found a similar trend. Thirty percent of Americans thought the economy was in a "poor" state, but only 4 percent thought their wages would decrease in the next 12 months. A whopping 36 percent expected their home price to go up in the next year as well.

Jay Campbell of Hart Research — who helps conduct CNBC's survey — said that type of personal confidence isn't limited to issues of economics. "The classic example is elected officials: People hate Congress, but generally they like their own congressperson," he said. "So part of it is people think their 'local' situation is better than the 'global' one."

Campbell pointed out other dissonant examples: Parents will say the education system is messed up, but they like their local schools. Or for younger children, they will claim their child-care program is a high quality one that's great for their child, even though the program hasn't met any generally accepted standards of high quality.

Thinking about yourself isn't political

Campbell also cited data showing that people are consistent in their outlook about their personal financial future, regardless of political party AND their income level. Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to say the economy is going down the tubes, but both high- and low-income groups gave nearly identical answers when asked about their personal financial situation.

It's all the same effect: People think they are doing great compared to everybody else.

"Even for Democrats, who are politically inclined to have a more favorable outlook on the national economy [right now], people have a very clear sense that they are OK with their own finances much more than the nation's," he said.

It's only when you ask them about the general direction of the country do their political leanings show up. In 2016, Democrats think the economy is doing much better than Republicans do. Their political party differences only come out when asking them about the country, not about themselves.

When you put it all together, what you find is an American electorate that is very good about thinking they're doing better than everybody else, the rest of the country is bad and no time has ever mattered more than right now. It's a selfie world, and everybody else is just scrolling through it.