Protesters gather at the Hennepin County Government Pla […]
(MintPress) – Over the course of this year’s presidential election season, both President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney have promised voters that their policies will help one demographic in particular: the middle class.
But with two wildly different visions of how the economy should be introduced to a recovery, it only makes sense that the middle class benefit more from one candidate than another. With that, in light of two polarities clamoring for the confidence of the middle class, who is better for America’s largest socio-economic construct: Democrats or Republicans?
A popular television advertisement circulating through the airwaves since mid-September saw the Obama campaign lambast Romney for sparing America’s wealthiest citizens from paying a higher tax rate — a campaign mission Obama has repeatedly attempted to pass through Congress. The ad claims that Romney’s plan would add a $2,000 tax burden on middle class citizens by potentially eliminating the home mortgage reduction, health care credits and college tuition breaks.
“To pay for huge new tax breaks for millionaires like him, Romney would have to raise taxes on the middle class,” a narrator in the ad says. “How much would you pay? Romney just won’t say.”
An analysis of the tax reform plan introduced by vice presidential nominee and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan by the Tax Policy Center found that the proposal would significantly cut taxes for the rich while increasing the tax burden on the middle class. Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said tax reform plans often proposed by the GOP hurt the very demographic that they are trying to court.
“Ryan seems to want to have his cake and eat it, too, and this report shows that you can’t,” Schumer said. “If you want to cut taxes on the rich and not raise the deficit, you’re going to have to basically clobber the middle class.”
Then why does such a significant chunk of the middle class support a political party that does not seem to have their economic interests in mind?
It is first important to understand what population of the country comprises the middle class. At a federal level, it is impossible to say because cost of living expenses vary state by state and city by city. Depending on what social class models are used, anywhere from 25 percent to 66 percent of households could pass as being pigeonholed as middle class. A recent study by the Brookings Institute found that two-thirds of American citizens spend a majority of their lives in the middle class. At the federal level, rough estimates suggest that the average family of four would need to make $68,000 per year to fit that mold.
As for the middle class as a beneficiary, both presidential candidates turn to tax policies as a catch-all for their support. Obama has pushed for a policy that would raise taxes on those in the country earning more than $250,000. Romney has supported cutting taxes for the rich, justifying the plan as a generator of jobs. But the Obama campaign has argued that the revenue lost in the tax cut for the rich would either have to be made up by taxing the poor and middle class more, or simply be tacked on to the debt.
It is something the middle class has caught on to as well. A September poll conducted by the New York Times and CBS News found that 55 percent of voters in swing states such as Wisconsin and Colorado believe that Romney’s policies better suit the rich. A Pew Research Center poll taken in August found that a much higher figure, 71 percent, believed that Romney would look out for the rich. But the Pew poll also noted that many Republican voters do not see “rich,” but rather poor. Many said the battle is between a poor minority and the middle class.
“The increasingly polarized political landscape is vividly reflected in how Republicans and Democrats view the two parties,” the Pew Center wrote. “Members of the middle class who identify themselves as Republicans are more likely than Democrats to see the GOP as the party of the middle class and the Democrats as the party of the poor. In contrast, Democrats are much more likely to see their party representing the interests of the middle class and the GOP as the party of the rich.”
Yet, despite studies suggesting that he is not taking their best economic interests into account, Romney has polled well among middle class families. A POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Poll taken in September showed that Romney held a significant advantage over Obama with middle class voters, 55 percent to 41 percent. According to the poll, middle-class families comprise about 54 percent of the total American electorate.
If the middle class finds itself voting for politicians who identify with the far right, it could be for a wide array of reasons, experts say. Kathy Gill, an analyst of technology policy at the Moderate Voice, said Republicans still garner their fair share of middle class votes because most voters underestimate the wealth gap in America. A study conducted at Harvard University found that when Americans were asked about the actual distribution of wealth in America, their estimates were very inconsistent with the way things are.
Respondents said that the top 20 percent of earners accounted for nearly 60 percent of the wealth. In reality, over 80 percent of the wealth is controlled by that income bracket. Gill said that this misconception of wealth structure in America causes those who think it is more fair than it really is to vote against their interests.
“If you can’t see the inequality, if the picture you hold in your mind is so vastly different from reality, then it should be no surprise when you vote against your own economic self-interest,” Gill wrote.
Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at New York University, has a theory that isn’t so tangible. Haidt said the right does a better job of pulling at the heartstrings of voters on things such as social and cultural issues. He notes that Republicans are more willing to stress their own moral compass during elections, such as strong families, patriotism and accepting personal responsibility by avoiding government safety-net programs.
In this year’s election season in particular, Democrats have stressed the need for those social programs to protect the elderly and poor. But Republicans often counter with their faith, playing up their Christian values of which 73 percent of Americans share.
This election season, Romney has played the “sky is falling” card – signaling the end of America’s dominance if Obama stays in office. In a state of fear, Haidt says both voters in America and Europe tend to align themselves with the candidate that is more willing to prioritize a country’s dominance rather than building a system for those already in need.
“Despite being in the wake of a financial crisis that … should have buried the cultural issues and pulled most voters to the left, we are finding in America and many European nations a stronger shift to the right,” Haidt wrote. “When people fear the collapse of their society, they want order and national greatness, not a more nurturing government.”