The constant references to the middle class are a safe bet for both candidates, especially during tough, economic times, according to Joshua Dyck, an associate professor of political science and co-director of UMass Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion.
“Just about everyone sees themselves as middle class, and you want to appeal to the majority of voters,” he said. “It’s an easy way to talk to a lot of people at the same time.”
He said the notion of the middle class “stands for the idea that Americans can be independent, buy a home, have a white picket fence and be self-sufficient. American Dream rhetoric underlies this notion of middle class.”
He said when candidates talk about the middle class getting squeezed and hammered, “it’s a way of generalizing the economic experience of most Americans. ... No one is against the middle class, so everyone is for it. It’s like being against democracy.”
How that translates into policies and plans is important for candidates trying to communicate complicated ideas.
“Romney’s plan of cutting taxes and closing loopholes — is that the right plan?” he said. “Or is the better approach by Obama — where government invests in technologies and new ideas, while also cutting taxes for the middle class and asking the wealthy to pay more?”
“It all becomes part of the narrative of the campaign,” he added. “What should government do, and how should it act? The election is about Middle America, Main Street vs. Wall Street — and has evolved into how to help middle-class families.”
Rich Padova, a professor of world geography, government and politics at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, said he doesn’t think most politicians even know what the term middle class means. And that’s partly because, he said, it means different things to different people.