The Middle Class as Absent Audience

National Journal Staff
National Journal

“President Obama has a plan to rebuild America from the ground up, investing in innovation, education, and job training. It only works if there is a strong middle class,” says former President Clinton in an Obama television ad out today, the Big Dog having been unleashed on an unsuspecting electorate to label the election “a clear choice” rather than the more Romney-friendly “referendum” that Republicans are pushing.

The problem with Clinton’s argument is that the notion of “a strong middle class” appears to be largely chimerical. Politicians in neither party are eager to admit that, because “middle class” is tidy code for the American dream, it’s how many Americans choose to define themselves, and a lot of votes come from those people.

But the Pew Research Center study released on Wednesday shows that the middle class, as defined by Pew, has fallen from 61 percent of adults 40 years ago to 51 percent today. Its net worth is about where it was two decades ago, and its median household income has fallen more than $3,000 in the last decade. Eighty-five percent believe it’s more difficult to maintain their lifestyles now than 10 years ago.

Those figures hardly describe a robust middle class. Instead, they point to a galloping disconnect between the voters themselves and the campaigns that purport to be trying to reach them. Obama and Romney both cheer the middle class and promise to reveal its true glory, but more and more that message appears misdirected, and aimed at a swath of the electorate that can’t recognize itself in those words.

-- Jim O'Sullivan


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