The latest Pew survey of the state of America’s middle class doesn’t mince words: the subtitle of the report is “smaller, poorer, gloomier.” The lost decade for our middle-class is something to lament in itself, but its effect on the upcoming election may be equally significant.According to Pew’s data, President Obama is enjoying a slight lead among adults who identify as middle class, but as the report notes niether candidate has “sealed the deal” with the key voting bloc:
About half (52%) of adults who self-identify as middle class say they believe Obama’s policies in a second term would help the middle class, while 39% say they would not help. By comparison, 42% say that Romney’s election would help the middle class, while 40% say it would not help.There is much more variance in the judgments of the middle class about the likely impact of the two candidates’ policies on the wealthy and the poor. Fully seven-in-ten (71%) middle-class respondents say Romney’s policies would help the wealthy, while just a third (33%) say they would help the poor. Judgments about Obama tilt the opposite way. Roughly four-in-ten (38%) middle-class respondents say his policies would help the wealthy, and about six-in-ten (62%) say they would help the poor.
But a deeper look at the data shows some troubling signs for the president. Although 52 percent of the middle class express faith in the President, 42 percent believe they are worse off than they were before the recession. And as Timothy Noah notes in the New Republic, most of the income losses these families suffered occurred during the recovery rather than the recession itself. Regardless of race, education, or marital status, the middle class took one on the chin after 2009.Although Obama retains his narrow lead in the middle class, he clearly can’t take their support for granted. Governor Romney has a chance to make the case; ten interesting weeks lie ahead.