THE PUBLIC EYE: Class Warfare: The 2014 Election

Bob Burnett
Friday June 06, 2014 - 12:46:00 PM

As we head into the midterm national election, it’s clear that voters are unhappy. But it’s uncertain how their displeasure will affect the November 4th outcome. We’re seeing class warfare, where the interests of the 1 percent are competing with those of the 99 percent. 

Recently, pollster Celinda Lake discussed voter displeasure: “Three quarters of voters say their own economic situation has gotten worse or stagnated over the past four years.” “Fewer Americans now classify themselves as middle class, and more are using the lower class designation.” “[Respondents] do not agree that the next generation will be better off than they are.” 

The 2014 election should be about jobs. Voters should be asked to choose between competing visions of the economy. A recent CBS News Poll asked, “What do you think is the most important issue facing this country today?” 30 percent of respondents said, “Economy/Jobs;” healthcare was a distant second at 7 percent. The Celinda Lake poll found that 62 percent of respondents believed, “the government should focus on creating jobs even if that means increasing the deficit in the short term” and “two-thirds of voters believe the richest two percent should be paying more in taxes.” 

Not surprisingly, the wealthiest 1 percent do not agree. Academics Benjamin Page, Larry Bartels, and Jason Seawright found that on key priorities the attitudes of the 1 percent are dramatically different from those of the 99 percent. While 68 percent of the general public agreed, “The government in Washington ought to see to it that everyone who wants to work can find a job,” but only 19 percent of the elite concurred. 

When Page, Bartels, and Seawright inquired whether, “Our government should redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich,” only 17 percent of the wealthy agreed (compared with 52 percent of the general public). As the economic divide has widened, there’s been a divergence of opinion about what direction America should go in. Page, Bartels, and Seawright found the 1 percent were much more inclined to cut back Federal services such as healthcare and Social Security. 

Rather than focus on jobs, the 1 percent are attempting to turn the 2014 election into a referendum on President Obama. 

Some members of the power elite, such as the Koch brothers, are spending huge amounts of money to influence the election. In North Carolina, conservative Art Pope has already spent more than $7 million to defeat centrist Democratic Senator Kay Hagan; tagging her as Obama’s pawn. 

As a consequence of the conservative propaganda campaign, the President’s support has suffered. The Gallup Tracking Poll shows that President Obama’s approval ratings are negative; 44 percent approve of his performance while 51 percent disapprove. 

However, Congress is far more unpopular than the President. In the latest Gallup poll only 13 percent of respondents approve of the job Congress is doing. 

But, as a result of negative propaganda, the national dialogue is warped. In many close Congressional races the focus is not on employment but rather on President Obama. 

Five tossup Senate races illustrate these dynamics: Alaska, Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana, and New Hampshire. In each case it’s unlikely that President Obama will come to the state to campaign with the Democratic candidate. In each race the Koch brothers and their allies have already spent millions on ads attacking the Democratic candidate for supporting Obama. 

In Alaska, Democratic Senator Mark Begich has responded by positioning himself as independent from President Obama. He barely mentions Obamacare in his campaign literature and, instead, focuses on job creation

In Colorado, Democratic Senator Mark Udall is following a similar strategy. 

However in Kentucky, Democratic candidate Allison Grimes is in a tough race against Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. They’re having a strange dialogue about jobs. There are only twelve thousand coal-mining jobs left in Kentucky (versus 242,000 in healthcare) but President Obama’s decision to propose tougher limits on power-plant emissions has made coal a big issue and hurt Grimes. 

In Louisiana, Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu is also on the defensive. Again, there’s a warped discussion of jobs. Landrieu has been attacked for her inability to gain approval for the Keystone XL pipeline. 

In New Hampshire, Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, like Senators Begich and Udall, is running as someone who is independent of President Obama. She’s touting her record bringing jobs to New Hampshire. 

There are three common themes in these races. The Democratic candidates are on their own, President Obama won’t be campaigning in their state. The Democrats are under attack; the Koch brothers and their allies have already spent millions in negative ads and will continue to attack the President’s record. As a consequence, the Republican candidates don’t have a positive agenda; they’re promising to oppose President Obama across the board. 

It’s class warfare. The 2014 midterm election pits the interests of the 1 percent against those of the 99 percent. 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at