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Posts Tagged ‘middle class’

Faith in Math

February 21st, 2012


Nate Silver makes a meticulous mathematical argument that President Obama would be better off gaining downscale whites even if it costs him many upscale white voters (“Why Obama will embrace the 99%”). But for his math to add up, he has to make a giant leap of faith: that populism will win over working class whites. But where’s the compelling evidence for this populist proposition?

In our surveys of this same group of voters, there is certainly anger directed toward Wall Street, Congress, and special interests, yet we keep hearing a much more resonant emotion: anxiety.  These and other swing voters are deeply concerned that the country is in decline. They fear that they, and especially their children, may not be able to successfully swim against an ebbing tide of American greatness. They don’t know what America does or makes anymore that represents a solid chance for opportunity and growth for themselves and their communities.

Among arguably the most important swing block of the electorate – those who voted for Obama in 2008 but switched to the Republicans in 2010 – this anxiety about America is palpable. In our 2011 survey we asked them to imagine that the world economy were the Olympics, and only one-third said that America would earn the gold 10 years from now. An equal amount said we would not be on the medal stand at all. Michael Ford, who directs the Center for the Study of the American Dream at Xavier University, found that middle income Americans overwhelmingly believe “the future is being created elsewhere” and that the middle class has lost faith in every major institution in America except the military. A pessimistic populism focused mainly on fairness, income inequality, and anti-corporatism does not speak to, much less answer, these profound anxieties.

Whether he runs as a populist or centrist, President Obama may be reelected no matter the rhetorical framework. As Mr. Silver notes, the economy is improving, bin Laden is dead, and al Qaeda is in tatters. And let’s not discount the fractured primary on the Republican side. But ultimately, an anger-based “people versus the powerful” argument has been tried, time and again, in the modern political era – by Mondale, Gore, Kerry, and Edwards, among many others – and it always comes up short. What voters along the income spectrum want is a leader who eases their anxieties and speaks to their aspirations, not one who echoes their anger. If Nate Silver has persuasive evidence to the contrary, he didn’t include it in his mathematically astute piece.


More About What Makes a Middle Class School

September 21st, 2011


The goal of our recent report “Incomplete: How Middle-Class Schools Aren’t Making the Grade” was to jumpstart a national conversation around the state of middle-class schools. Given the response, it looks like we’re off to a good start.

We’ve received a wide range of feedback from educators, policymakers, and thought leaders who share a common purpose—getting our kids ready to succeed in the 21st century. Since a portion of the response has focused on our definition of “middle-class” or our approach to school-by-school data, we wanted to take a moment to tackle some of the issues that have been raised.

It seems that the main point of contention that some have with our report has to do with how we define a middle-class school.

To sum up their argument, they find our use of eligibility statistics for free or reduced school lunch to be either arbitrary or too sweeping. Let us be clear: Our decision to use this criteria was a deliberate choice, grounded in established procedures and data.

With the current education reform debate almost entirely focused on low-income schools and students, we wanted to shed light on the schools in the middle that serve a majority of Americans. We paralleled the U.S. Department of Education’s definition of high poverty schools and districts as those with more than 75% of students qualifying for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Schools and districts with 25% or less of their students eligible for free or reduced lunch are the upper-end of the income spectrum. In essence, the middle two quartiles of schools are middle-class schools.  Read the rest of this entry »

How the Democrats can stay relevant

November 4th, 2010

by and

This piece was originally published in Politico.

After sweeping to congressional majorities in 2006 and electing a president in 2008 with the largest Democratic percentage of the popular vote since Lyndon B. Johnson, Democrats are now in danger of becoming an irrelevant party.

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Now that we’re focused on debt, let’s make some difficult choices

September 28th, 2010

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This piece was originally published in The Hill.

It took America 193 years to run up its first trillion dollars of debt; it took us 10 months to run up our most recent.

For much of the 20th century, the United States was a production giant. We produced much of the world’s goods; we led in innovation; our service sector exploded; our middle class became the envy of the world and we became the most powerful economy on earth.  Slowly, however, we became a consumption giant. We now power the world’s economy as much by what we consume as what we make. We’ve become, in the words of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), “the kid with the cake mustache on his face.”

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A Message That Actually Works — Until It’s Scrambled

September 23rd, 2010


This piece was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

In “A Message That Actually Works,” Mike Lux laments efforts by Democrats to frame the upcoming election as a choice between going back to the Bush economic plan or moving forward with President Obama’s. He used the poor performance of what he referred to as a “Third Way-style” message in a recent Democracy Corps poll as evidence that the approach is a dud. With all due respect to Mr. Lux, calling the polled message “Third Way-style” is like calling a soufflé an omelet because they both contain eggs. Even though there’s a common ingredient, different combinations produce wildly different dishes. We think ours is the winning recipe.

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To keep the 2010 midterms from repeating 1994, Democrats can learn from Reagan

September 20th, 2010


This piece was originally published in The Washington Post.

“We are going to lose the House and the Senate.”

Those were the opening words of a memo that I faxed to my then-boss, Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), on Labor Day in 1994. Schumer was still in the House, I was his legislative director, and my prediction was based on one overarching idea: The Democratic Party had lost its way. Our national agenda had been hijacked by the parochial agendas of aggrieved special interest groups. And as a result, we were badly misfiring with the middle class.

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