What's Next For Middle America?

By Lindsey Boerma

Heartland Monitor Poll Event

Updated at 9:05 a.m. on Sept. 13.

As the United States undergoes the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, experts say the changes in social climate are what set this recession apart.

Atlantic Media Political Director Ronald Brownstein moderated a panel discussion at the National Press Club today that assessed the results of the latest Allstate-National Journal Heartland Monitor poll. The survey was conducted across the country to gauge how middle-class Americans are experiencing the economy.

A jarring 70 percent of Americans said that a relative or close friend has lost his or her job as a result of the downturn. Brownstein noted in his analysis that those "who responded to the poll from the upper rungs of the income ladder are as likely to say they know someone who has lost a job as are those on the lower steps; whites are as likely to have friends or relatives who have been displaced as are minorities."


Furthermore, Brownstein told the panel, of the 55 percent who said they believe the economy will improve -- a number that has dwindled from 70 percent in April -- whites and Hispanics were much less optimistic for recovery than were African Americans.

"It's unlike anything we've seen since FDR," said Cornell Belcher, president of Brilliant Corners Research and Strategies, during the discussion. "But if you look back on the past dips... the white middle class didn't feel the kind of pain and angst they are now. I think it's profound and it will change the way this generation operates."

The panelists agreed that the most immediate indicator of this shifting national sentiment will be the outcome of November's midterm elections. In the Q&A following the discussion, audience members asked about how the new Congress will deal with the financial situation, and the possibilities of negotiation between seated congressional Democrats and the expected tide of new Republicans.

"I think they'll put more priority on finding ways to stimulate the economy, even though they differ... on how to do it," Brownstein said. "But it's tilted predominately toward some kind of tax cuts."

Edward Reilly, CEO Americas of FD International Limited, said the key for both parties will be playing the independents. Republican strategist Glen Bolger agreed, forecasting a dismal middle ground for the 112th Congress.

"You'll have a mixed group of people coming into the Senate," Bolger said. "But I think the lesson you're seeing from the primaries is that on both sides of the aisle, they don't like people who cut deals across the aisle. And it's going to make it that much more difficult" to bolster the economy.

As a solution to this partisan dilemma, several panelists suggested that the country embrace an "economic patriotism" focused on individual spending for the good of the economy.

"I think what I'm seeing is there's a real opportunity for... American patriotism," Belcher said. "But look at [what happened after] 9/11 -- Americans rallied together, and they wanted to rally together. Well, [consider this] sort of an 'economic terrorism.'"

Video can be seen at: http://insiderinterviews.nationaljournal.com/2010/09/whats-next-for-middle-america.php