Perceptions vs. Facts: Who Cares about the Middle Class?

Barb Wire

In a new national survey, the Pew Research Center reports an ironic public perception: Democrats are viewed, in general, more favorably than Republicans, while the same survey indicates that the public agrees more with the Republicans on certain particular issues (including, according to the Pew media release, “double-digit leads over the Democrats on terrorism, foreign policy and taxes”). In other words, people are buying into the rhetoric of the Democrats, while at the same time, they agree with critical public policies advocated by the Republicans.

The major finding of the survey is intriguing and puzzling. “Majorities say the Democratic Party is open and tolerant, cares about the middle class and is not ‘too extreme.’ By contrast, most Americans see the GOP lacking in tolerance and empathy for the middle class, and half view it as too extreme.”

The perception that the GOP cares less about the middle class than the Democrats is especially troubling for the Republican Party  because demographic and economic data is clear that Democrat policies have been disastrous for the middle class. There is a huge gap between public perceptions and the reality of life in the middle class during the Obama presidency. Thomas B. Edsall’s December 2014 column in the New York Times asks, “Have Democrats Failed the White Working Class?” It’s a fair question because, he writes:

“At work and at home, their lives are worse than they were a generation ago. Their real incomes have fallen, their employment opportunities have diminished, their families have crumbled and their ties to society are fraying.

“This is how daily life feels, to many in the white working class. Unlike blacks and Hispanics, whites are not the beneficiaries of affirmative action programs designed to open doors to higher education and better jobs for underrepresented minorities; if anything, these programs serve only to limit their horizons.

“Liberal victories in the sexual and women’s rights revolutions – victories that have made the lives of many upscale Democrats more productive and satisfying – appear, from the vantage point of the white working class, to have left many women to struggle as single parents, forced to cope with both male defection from paternal responsibility and the fragmentation of a family structure that was crucial to upward mobility in the postwar period.”

The changes in societal mores over the past six years, especially in regard to sexual matters, have disproportionately hurt the lower and middle classes. The “marriage gap” is the highest it has ever been; the difference in marriage rates between the working class and middle-and-upper middle class has produced unprecedented numbers of single mothers and children in poverty.

In his new book, “Labor’s Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America,” Andrew J. Cherlin explores all the ways that the decline in marriage has harmed non-college-educated adults who are increasingly turning to cohabitation rather than marriage and raising their children as single parents rather than follow the patterns of the college-educated who are more likely to get married before having children.

In her review of Mr. Cherlin’s book, Kay Hymowitz noted that by 2010 while college-educated women delayed motherhood, non-college-educated-women’s “rates of nonmarital childbearing had doubled and their families looked more like those of the inner-city poor than the “respectable” quasi-bourgeois of the working-class golden age.” She further added, “The stolid, churchgoing working-class family is imploding, with divorce and nonmarital births now as routine as a high-school football game.”

While some Americans are happy to see looser societal strictures, Ross Douthat, in an excellent New York Times column summarizes the problems related to the vast “cultural and economic divide between the college educated and the struggling working class.” He wrote, “We may have a culture in which the working class is encouraged to imitate what are sold as key upper-class values – sexual permissiveness and self-fashioning, spirituality and emotivism – when really the upper class is also held together by a kind of secret traditionalism, without whose binding power family life ends up coming apart even faster.”

The Pew study also indicates what other polls also show: President Obama’s job approval rate has ticked up (to 48 percent compared to 26 percent for congressional leaders) since his monumental loss in the 2014 elections. His rhetorical initiatives have improved his personal standing, but when asked who can best solve the nation’s problems, Pew reports a statistical tie, “40 percent say Obama, while 38 percent say GOP leaders. That is virtually unchanged from a few days after the midterm elections in November.”

Mr. Obama has also successfully continued to paint Republicans as “extremists.” Pew reports that 50 percent of the public views the GOP as extreme while only 36 percent view the Democrats as extreme. In fact, nearly 60 percent of the public perceives the Democrats as “not extreme,” in spite of the fact that they recognize the radical nature of many of the policies the Democrats are pushing.

Clearly, the Republican Party has the winning hand on the policy issues. The president with the media’s help is managing to trump the Republicans with his rhetoric and style. By losing the image war, the GOP is, by default, allowing the president’s fundamental transformation of our nation to continue apace.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

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