Understanding the middle class vote

With November 2nd just around the corner, President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney are doubling down on campaign efforts to gather support from a broad base of Americans. While the two parties typically cater to different demographics, this year both held conventions focused on reaching the ever growing number of self-identified independents, more specifically, the 35 percent within the middle class.

Vying for the votes of the same crowd, both parties attempted to surge ahead of the other coming out of their conventions by clearly distinguishing their roadmap for the nation from the other party. Republicans stressed that regulations on small businesses, excessive taxation, and the burdening debt of social services hamper the success of the middle class. Their convention was chillingly adorned with a debt clock which increased per second more than a thousand times what one minimum wage man/woman earns per hour. The Democrats, in contrast, stressed the point that social services (student loans, grants, medicare, etc.) are necessary for the stability of the middle class. As such, they voiced their intentions to maintain and extend the availability of these programs. Which party will garner the most support of middle income Americans remains to be seen, but national polls can give us some insight as to what characterizes this group of voters and how the presidential candidates might attempt to draw their backing.

Surprisingly, a basic standard defining the middle class is non-existent. Pew Research Center poll statistics show that women and seniors are more inclined to consider themselves middle class than men and the youth, and nearly equal percentages (about 50 percent) of white, Hispanic, and African Americans characterize themselves as such. A striking result of the Pew Research study is that the middle class is such an admired demographic that of the individuals identifying with this group, in actuality 46 percent are making more and 35 percent are making less than the middle class income.1 Based on U.S. Census Bureau data the median household income is around $52,000. Accordingly, these individuals and families identifying with the middle class are earning between $34,800 and $104,000.

Among middle class Americans, there is a notable percentage of about 42 percent with a belief that their financial situation is less stable than in 2007, but 60 percent concur that their standard of living has improved compared to their parent’s situation at a similar age. Yet, the study asserts that middle income earners find that the improved standard of living is often harder for them to maintain. This reflects a reality where the middle class is shrinking, and may be indicative of a disproportionate burden placed upon middle income earners. According to the most recent IRS income tax data (2009), the middle class [designated as the top 50 percent (income floor=$32,000) to the top 10 percent (income floor =$114,000)] collectively pay 40 percent of the total income taxes collected, while a remaining 50 percent of Americans earning below $32,000 pay only 2.82 percent. Without a doubt, the tax obligation placed on middle income Americans and their dogged efforts to stay afloat need to be given adequate attention by the candidates who want their votes.

A recent Rasmussen poll indicates that 64 percent of American voters favor lower taxes and a government that provides fewer services. Middle class Americans will have to ask themselves to what extent this is true for their individual situation. The following are key questions relevant to November’s political outcome: Are middle class Americans the main recipients of social benefits? How much of these social benefits do middle class Americans actually receive, in comparison to the taxes they pay for them to be offered? Is the sustained future of the American middle class dependent on tax breaks or increased benefits? The answers to these questions will provide insight into the strategies of both the Obama and Romney presidential campaigns and have undoubtedly been studied to gauge the political value of certain campaign promises and persuasions.

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