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Amy Traub

DMI Poll: A Worried Middle Class Supports Progressive Policy, But Not Sure How Their Own Reps Voted

Today the Drum Major Institute released its first annual Survey on the Middle Class and Public Policy. The nationwide poll, conducted by Global Strategy Group, aimed to learn how those Americans who see themselves as middle class (the vast majority of us, it turns out) think about the direction of the country, public policy ideas that could improve the nation, and their relationship with their own elected representatives. What we found were middle-class households filled with “fearful families”: Americans worried about the present, pessimistic about the future, but not nearly so divided on issues of public policy as the typical media reports of country divided by red and blue might lead us to believe. In fact, there’s broad bipartisan support for a range of progressive policies.

First, as DMI has often said, the American people aren’t stupid. We know a country headed in the wrong direction when we see it. 77% of middle-class households think things are off on the wrong track in America now. With stagnant wages and unemployment on the upswing, jobs and the economy were the top concern. And with skyrocketing costs to fill up at the pump, high gas prices ranked #2 overall. Nor do people think gas prices are coming back down anytime soon. Despite regular reports of Hollywood break-ups, middle-class respondents say it’s far more likely that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie will last long enough to celebrate their 25th anniversary (56%) than gas prices reach $3 a gallon again (19%). (18% say neither one is going to happen).

Middle-class voters are split on the presidential race (about half leaning toward McCain and half to Obama) but there’s a lot of agreement around public policy with strong support for progressive measures. 75% of middle-class respondents think a universal national health insurance plan is an excellent or good idea. 71% want to see a law requiring employers to provide paid family and medical leave. 78% wish their representative in Congress had voted to expand SCHIP (health coverage for uninsured low- and middle-income kids). 68% say their rep should have voted to make it easier for people to organize labor unions. (the list goes on – check out the poll report itself).

While Democrats and folks planning to vote for Obama tended to support these policies most strongly, all the policies mentioned above get a majority of support from Republicans and McCain supporters as well.

If these policies are so popular, why isn’t the nation moving in a more progressive direction? One problem is that most middle-class Americans don’t know how their members of Congress actually voted on the issues in question. While two-thirds of middle-class adults say they try to follow what Congress is doing at least somewhat closely, most get very few communications from their representatives. 72% cannot name a single piece of legislation passed by Congress in the past two years that has benefited them or their families. In part, this reflects a grim assessment of Congress’ efficacy. But it also says something about the lack of connection between the nation’s legislators and their middle-class constituents. 68% of middle-class adults would like their rep to support taxing hedge fund managers at the same rate as others in their income bracket. But 69% don’t know if that’s how their rep actually cast the vote. It’s hard to hold your representative accountable if you don’t know what they’re up to.

Of course, DMI isn’t primarily in the polling business. As a think tank, we try to provide the ideas and information to begin to solve some of the problems that face the nation. One solution is an online resource for understanding how legislation before Congress impacts the current and aspiring middle class and for tracking how members of Congress voted on each bill. Site users can find out both why the middle class benefits when undocumented immigrant kids get a chance to go to college and how their Senators voted on the bill. It may not close the disconnect between legislators and their constituents all in one swoop. But this poll has helped to convince us it’s needed more than ever.

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Posted at 10:30 AM, Aug 19, 2008 in Congress | Drum Major Institute | Government Accountability | Middle-class squeeze | Politics | Progressive Agenda |
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