When asked “Who would do more to advance the economic interests of middle-class Americans,” Obama wins over Romney, 50% to 44%. When asked who would do more to advance the economic interests of financial interests, Romney wins 56% to 33%. When asked who would do the most to advance the interests of the wealthy, Romney wins 68% to 21%.
Thus far, a win for Obama. The take home message: there is a strong class division at play. To the extent that Obama can exploit class divisions, he will be successful (after all, we are a middle class nation and as the poll reveals, the majority believe that Obama will advance the interests of the middle-class).
But this lesson seems to be the wrong one to glean from the poll results. When white voters are asked “Who would do more to advance the economic interest of you and your family?” the poll reveals the following results:
- Working class: Romney 44%, Obama 42%
- Comfortable in current class: Romney 49%, Obama 41%
- Middle class: Romney 53%, Obama 38%
- Struggling to remain in current class: Romney 55%, Obama 32%
- Laid off/knows someone whose been laid off: Romney 56%, Obama 32%
- Upper middle class/better off: Romney 61%, Obama 29%
This raises an interesting question: how could a majority believe that Obama would advance the interests of the middle class when members of the middle class (and working class, and upper middle class, etc) believe that their best bet is Romney?
Public opinion is interesting and frustrating. In one of the classes I teach (environmental policy) I provide students with some data that shows two things: (1) a majority believe the environment has gotten worse, and (2) a majority believe that the environment, as they experience it, has improved. Both can’t be true simultaneously. I use this example to explain that people tend to gain their impression of macro-conditions via the media, which focuses on sensational stories, even if the larger story stands at odds with their own experiences. As a result, a majority thinks the environment has improved for them but has become worse for everyone else–an impossibility, to be certain.
The media seems committed to a distinct meta-narrative: Obama will promote the interests of the middle class whereas Romney will cater to the 1 percent. To some extent, it appears, voters have accepted this portrayal. Yet, in their own assessment of how the candidates would impact on the economic welfare of themselves and their families, they depart from the meta-narrative.
This is not good news for the Obama campaign, particularly if voters will decide in November based on their projections of how a given candidate’s victory will impact on them and their families. This is the big lesson.