This column by Robert Samuelson is called “The Quiet Comeback of the Middle Class.” It presents a picture of contemporary America at variance from the narrative of both the left and the Trumpians, at least in their 2016 incarnation.
Samuelson cites a Gallup poll from June of this year in which 62 percent of Americans said they are in the middle or upper middle class, while only 36 percent classified themselves as working class or lower class. This stands in marked contrast to the results of a survey asking the same question in late 2015. Then, the country was almost evenly split between those in the middle and upper-middle classes (51 percent) and those in the working and lower classes (48 percent).
Gallup finds that “that subjective social class identification has stabilized close to the prevailing pattern observed before 2009” when the effects of the previous year’s recession kicked in. And Karlyn Bowman, a highly respected pollster for the American Enterprise Institute says that numerous polls tell the same basic story. Americans believe they “are back” economically.
For example, they believe increasingly (1) that this is a good time to find a quality job, (2) that they are getting ahead (42 percent believe this, compared to only 23 percent in 2008), and (3) that their jobs will not be outsourced.
Samuelson points out that this optimism hasn’t translated into popularity for President Trump. He points to a CBS News poll that finds Trump’s approval rating at 36 percent, unchanged from June, even as favorable views of the U.S. economy continue to soar.
Even so, I suspect that if America’s view of the economy and their place in the economic order remain favorable, Trump will have a big advantage, assuming he runs in 2020. That’s a big “if” though (the economic outlook, I mean, not so much Trump’s willingness to run for second term). We’re at least eight into an economic recovery, and thus arguably due for a downturn before mid-2020. A downturn would likely shake people’s confidence in their class standing and almost certainly shake their confidence in President Trump.
A successful America requires a large — and largely successful — middle class. The middle-class revival is evidence of optimism. The lingering question on this Labor Day is whether the revival has staying power. Or will memories of the Great Recession come back to haunt us?