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BYH to the city Public Works department for paying for an expensive public input session on sidewalks and not telling...

Voters stuck in the middle need some love

Tom Campbell

Tom Campbell

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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Candidates are lining up to run in 2020 and we’ve heard those running on a more liberal or “progressive” platform, as well as those espousing a more conservative agenda. There’s one big segment of our population being left out.

I’m talking about middle class, middle income citizens. Depending on which report you read, they make up 30 to 60 percent of all households. With such large numbers why aren’t politicians laser focused on them, talking about their hot button issues? Most middle-class citizens were raised believing that if you vote, pay your taxes and work hard to support your family things will turn out alright. Because most aren’t rabble-rousing activists, politicians pay them only lip service, instead favoring those who are making noise, protesting and demanding.

The one exception was Donald Trump. His whole campaign was directed to the middle class. Trump heightened their fears, telling them he felt their pain and he alone could provide solutions to their problems. But Trump hasn’t delivered on these promises and the pain continues, as Richard Vague discovered.

Vague is an entrepreneur who accumulated millions by starting and selling several companies. Someone that savvy has to be able to see existing needs and fill them. Richard Vague says the nation’s biggest needs today are among the middle class. Using classic market research techniques, Vague spent his own money traveling to six states and conducted 22 focus groups equally split between Republicans and Democrats who earned between 40 and 80 thousand dollars per year.

What are the kitchen table issues of most concern to the middle class? No. 1 is health insurance. Since most in the middle class have jobs and get their health insurance from their workplace, they aren’t focused on Obamacare. So all the politicians’ harangues about The Affordable Care Act don’t resonate with those in the middle. What does worry them are steep premium increases, rising deductibles and co-pays. They fear losing their health insurance due to the escalating costs.

The No. 2 issue is a job with opportunities for advancement over time. Everything is costing more but their wages are stagnant. Yesterday’s paycheck doesn’t pay today’s expenses, and the middle class doesn’t see pathways (training programs) to better paying jobs. They are fearful of being displaced by automation. They feel stuck.

The No. 3 issue might surprise you: The opioid crisis. Opioids are impacting families, friends, co-workers or neighbors in the greatest addiction crisis in our nation’s history. In addition to 200 dying each day, they know first-hand the families split apart and the resultant financial devastation. Those in the middle wonder why we haven’t attacked this crisis like we did chicken pox, measles, polio or aids.

Middle class respondents also voiced concerns about how politicians of different parties treat each other. They don’t see a graciousness of spirit that will halt the criticizing and start getting things done.

All these were universal concerns; there was little difference across demographic groups, political parties or geographic regions.

As the lyrics of the 1970s rock and roll song says, “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right and here I am, stuck in the middle with you.” Those in the middle don’t just want politicians to know the words but to follow though in helping them get unstuck. If they do that, they will be elected.

Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly statewide television discussion of NC issues that airs on UNC-TV main channel Fridays at 7:30pm, Sundays 12:30pm and UNC North Carolina Channel Fridays at 10:00pm, Saturdays at 4:00pm and Sundays at 10:00am.

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