Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

Commentary

November 13, 2012

The GOP's middle-class problem

Barack Obama is an Ivy League-educated former University of Chicago law lecturer with intellectual pretensions and a wide streak of introversion. If he weren't president of the United States, he might be a staff writer for The New Yorker. It would be hard to come up with an elitist liberal more stereotypically vulnerable to a Republican campaign lambasting him as out of touch.

Yet, in two presidential campaigns in a row, Barack Obama has easily bested his Republican opponents on the quality of being in touch with ordinary people. Somewhere, Adlai Stevenson - who set the standard for eggheaded liberalism in losing presidential bids in the 1950s - must wonder how Obama pulls it off.

According to the exit polls, 27 percent of people said the candidate quality that mattered most was "shares my values." Romney won 55 percent of them. Another 18 percent wanted "a strong leader." Romney won 61 percent of them. Yet another 29 percent wanted the candidate with "a vision for the future." Romney won them, too.

But the pollsters asked about one more quality: "Cares about people like me." For 21 percent of people, that was the most important quality, and Obama trounced Romney among them, 81 percent to 18.

Fifty-three percent of people said Obama is "more in touch with people like you," and only 43 percent said the same of Romney. In 2008, Obama held a similar advantage over Sen. John McCain.

Contemporary liberals will always be identified with caring, which is their calling card. But there is no reason that they should be considered the tribunes of the middle class. On Tuesday, a plurality, 44 percent, thought Obama's policies favor the middle class. A majority, 53 percent, thought Romney's policies would favor the rich.

It's not hard to imagine why this might be so. To put it in crude terms, the Republicans have an image as the party of the rich. Mitt Romney is rich. And, on top of that, his policies were easily distorted as simply favoring the rich. The Obama campaign was always going to have a broad opening to smear him as the tool of the "1 percent."

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