Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

The never-to-be-mentioned class holds key for Obama

During last week's debate in Denver, and the seemingly endless months of cross-country campaigning, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have relentlessly pledged their undying devotion to America's middle class.

But, strikingly, both men have also studiously avoided mentioning by name another vital constituency that ultimately could decide their fates: America's working class. Ever since the first Red Scare of 1919-1921, any discussions of class distinctions in the world's top capitalist bastion have set alarm bells ringing.

Little wonder, then, that Romney has sought traction by accusing Obama of waging class warfare by calling for the super-rich to pay more tax.

These days, in the political arena at least, politicians talk of the crisis facing America's middle class. Those below that are usually referred to as "aspiring to the middle class". For their part, media pundits and scholars don't hesitate to call a spade a spade. They know that the American working class still exists and that it retains the potential to decide the presidential sweepstakes.

Aside from the obvious distinction between waged and salaried workers, there's no clear-cut official definition of working class in America. Scholars often use income levels to determine class, pegging the cut-off at less than $50,000 (£31,000) for a family of four, or less than $30,000 (£18,500) for an individual.

Although significant gains have been made by African-Americans since the 1960s, the majority of blacks remain working-class, or poor.

Similarly, Latinos - America's fastest-growing ethnic group - are also overwhelmingly working-class. But polling shows that both these groups look set to repeat their 2008 pattern of overwhelmingly supporting Obama.

Yet, so far, polls show Romney with a substantial edge among the working class - particularly white males.

But a study released last month, by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), might give Obama cause for optimism.

The PRRI survey challenges many of the stereotypes about white working-class voters.

For example, the PRRI, which categorised 36% of Americans as working-class, found that Obama's recent 'tax-the-rich mantra' has resonated with the working class. Four years on from when he rode the cliches of 'hope' and 'change' to a historic victory that had many trumpeting the arrival of a 'post-racial' America, Obama needs to find a way to connect with white working-class voters who are angry at any and all who represent the status quo.

Polls indicate that a majority of Americans still recognise that Obama inherited and did not create the current economic mess.

But, at the end of the day, unless he can convince the majority of America's working class that he's their best hope, Obama will be calculating the worth of his presidential pension come November 7.

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