For Obama to Win Election 2012, He Must Focus on the Working Poor, Not the Middle Class


A new video released by the Obama campaign spoofs presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s attempt to woo voters at the upcoming Republican National Convention. 

The RNC, which is now slated to begin in earnest on Tuesday due to Tropical Storm Isaac, is centered around the theme “A Better Future.”

“In a world where thousands of jobs were destroyed by his corporate takeovers, from a state where his economic record was a failure, he faces an election where the stakes are even higher,” the narrator ominously intones. “And he’s tried it all, but nothing is working. His only hope is a convention reinvention.”

As the election draws ever closer, both Obama and Romney are struggling to demonstrate to voters that they can be and will be good stewards of the American dream. But in a world where you have to be asleep to believe in that dream, as George Carlin reminds us, how can Obama or Romney hope to win back the middle class? Perhaps Obama should consider a more radical approach: explaining how his policies will help the working poor.

The middle class has been in stark decline, according to recent research by the Pew Research Center. The study, which surveyed 1,287 adults who defined themselves as middle class in addition to analyzing data from the U.S. Census Bureau, noted that America’s middle class has been front and center this election season, despite its dwindling numbers. Middle class Americans are having more and more difficulty making ends meet. And millennials are struggling too. After all, more than half of us are jobless or underemployed. We can’t afford cars or houses. We’re not even really adults.

“We aren't where we need to be. Everybody agrees with that,” said President Obama in a recent AP interview. “But Governor Romney's policies would make things worse for middle-class families and offer no prospect for long-term opportunity for those striving to get into the middle class. And the policies I'm offering are ones that have been proven in the past to help middle-class families achieve their dreams.”  

Obama argues that the economic stagnation we are currently experiencing is the result of policies implemented before he came into office, policies which he says Romney would reinstate. He further asserts that his policies are the sensible choice for middle class voters.

It turns out that the middle class isn’t really sure which presidential candidate to choose. In the same Pew Report, 52% of the people surveyed believe that Obama’s policies in a second term would help the middle class, while 39% disagree. In comparison, 42% believe that the election of Mitt Romney would help the middle class, while 40% disagree.

If middle-class Americans aren’t sure which candidate would help them the most, they have stronger opinions about what Obama and Romney would do for the wealthy and the poor. 71% believe that Romney’s policies would help the wealthy; only 38% think that Obama’s policies would do the same. Just 33% believe that Romney’s policies would help the poor, while 62% think that Obama’s would. This is perhaps unsurprising, given that CNN reports that 64% of Americans believe that Romney favors the rich over the middle class.

Unsurprisingly, Obama has critiqued Romney on exactly the same grounds. He noted, “Mitt Romney is proposing a $5 trillion tax cut that disproportionately goes to the wealthiest Americans. And he will pay for that by gutting investments in things like education, infrastructure, basic science and research, voucherizing Medicare—all to provide an average of $250,000 worth of tax breaks to people making $3 million a year or more.”

While Obama is quick to attack Romney for favoring the rich, he needs to point out what he has done, or intends to do, to help the poor. So far, he hasn’t done as much as he could. Almost 46 million Americans fall under the poverty line; the U.S. poverty rate is about 1.8 times higher than in comparable countries.

Obama has said that everything he has done so far as president “has been centered on those hardworking Americans who are trying to achieve the American dream.” But those hardworking Americans he purports to defend aren’t all in the middle class; soon, none of them may be. Instead of merely attacking Romney, Obama should start talking concretely not only about how his policies will benefit the middle class but also how they will benefit low-income families.