March 2, 2012

Rasmussen: "Why Politicians Can't Connect With the Middle Class"

Marc Comtois

Pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that only 27% believe government can adequately "manage the economy" and 50% thinks it makes things worse when it tries to "help". Rasmussen focuses on why this attitude explains "why politicians can't connect with the middle class". (Incidentally, Steve Laffey's film, Fixing America provides further evidence of this point).

Upper-income Americans are evenly divided as to whether government management of the economy helps or hurts. Middle-income Americans, on the other hand, overwhelmingly view government management of the economy as hurtful.

The affluent, perhaps because they can easily gain access to the policymakers, are OK with government management of the economy. They want it done well, and many want it done in a way to benefit their own interests. That's why a plurality of Americans now believe the United States has a system of crony capitalism rather than free-market competition.

The middle class, without friends in Congress or on Wall Street, has an entirely different view. Broadly speaking, it see the federal government as a burden weighing down both the economy and the middle class. To help the economy, most simply want to reduce the burden. Seventy-seven percent of voters think that the government could help the economy by reducing the deficit. Seventy-one percent think it would help to reduce government spending, and 59 percent think tax cuts would help.

So when a politician talks of helping the middle class with a new government program, it just doesn't ring true.

It is exacerbated because, for the most part, modern political candidates can't relate to the middle-class.
Most candidates...tend to hang out with more affluent Americans. They tend to discuss how to make government work rather than how to make the nation work. To some, an issue like the price of gas is primarily a question of how it will impact potential investments in alternative fuels or whether higher gas prices are good because they encourage conservation.

To the middle class, the question of gas prices is much different. Data from the Discover Consumer Spending Monitor shows that half of all Americans don't have any money left over after paying their basic bills each month. For these Americans, rising gas prices force unpleasant lifestyle changes.

This disconnect wasn't always the case, even when the candidates were pretty well-off themselves:
To connect with the middle class requires understanding the middle class. Franklin Roosevelt did this in the 1930s. As he expanded the role of the federal government, he explained it in a manner that made sense. His greatest achievement, Social Security, was not sold as a government handout but as an insurance program with people setting aside money during their working years that could be drawn down in retirement. That attitude still resonates with 21st century Americans.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan understood the rising frustration with an ever-expanding government. In his first inaugural address, he said, "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." Six out of 10 voters still agree.

Yes, there is seemingly a contradiction here: the middle class supports a "big" government program but wants to cut government. But this circle can be squared if we--and the politicians looking for our votes--can better prioritize what we spend our tax dollars on.

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although they are disparaged as low life, many successful politicians see themselves as having made the "big time". They want to associate with other "big timers", corporate ceo's, investment bankers, etc. They mimic the attitudes of these people and the group markers of "success".

The "middle class" in "fly over country" are only associated with in order to obtain votes.

Posted by: Warrinton Faust at March 2, 2012 2:23 PM

Election and campaign reform is essential if our government is to return to a government by, of and for the people. The astronomical sum of money it takes to win an election, and the subsequent favoritism toward those who funded the victory is poison.

Posted by: michael at March 2, 2012 2:33 PM

I don't have much objection to getting the money out of politics. Public elections are an option. Government is such a fundamentally different functionality than voluntary market transactions that I don't think it's appropriate to put up for sale. My preference is to reduce the scope of government to the size where there is "nothing worth buying" anymore, but since that's not realistic for the new age of paternalism, it will take government to fix government in this instance. Everyone knows that campaign contributions are just legalized bribery in a corrupt place like Rhode Island anyway. Who would be stupid enough to give money to these scummy local politicians if they didn't expect anything in return?

Posted by: Dan at March 2, 2012 2:56 PM
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