PHILADELPHIA — Neither President Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney has said very much during the presidential campaign about helping the poor.
There may be a good reason for that: Elections are won by appealing to the middle class, not the impoverished.
“Most Americans see themselves as middle class, and that’s where the votes are,” said Rogers Smith, a University of Pennsylvania political science professor.
“Also, the poor don’t vote in high numbers. That’s why neither candidate is running on what he can do for the poor.”
In February, Romney told CNN: “You can focus on the very poor. That’s not my focus. … My energy is going to be devoted to helping middle-income people.”
While Obama hasn’t said much during the campaign about the poor, antipoverty advocates cite many of his accomplishments on their behalf.
Specifically, advocates praise the president for temporarily bolstering the food stamp program (now called SNAP, for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) with $26 billion in federal stimulus money.
He also augmented both the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.
Obama and his mother were on food stamps for a while when he was a child. But on the campaign trail, he rarely references his SNAP boost, perhaps mindful of the still-resonant sobriquet of “food stamp president” that Newt Gingrich hung on him.
Romney hasn’t used those exact words, but he mentioned during all three presidential debates that in the last four years the number of people on food stamps has increased from 32 million to 47 million.
Romney also said during the second debate that 3.5 million women fell into poverty during the Obama administration.
Obama never directly responded to the statements, nor did he say anything specific during the debates about the poor.
Toward the close of the second debate, Romney said: “I care about 100 percent of the people,” a comment widely seen as a reference to his “47 percent” remark.
Secretly taped at a fundraiser, Romney had opined that nearly half of all Americans “have become dependent on government” and “believe they are victims.”
In the debate, Obama countered that many of the 47 percent are “people who are working hard but don’t make enough.”
In September, Obama said on Univision Noticias that people in the 47 percent “want a hand up, not a handout.”
The poor don’t monolithically support Obama, as conventional wisdom holds, according to pollster Gallup Inc.
Gallup said Americans who are in poverty are more likely than those who are not to identify themselves as political independents – 50 percent vs. 40 percent.
It’s possible, then, that Romney’s taped remark at the fundraiser alienated some poor people who may otherwise have voted for him, Gallup suggested.
A USA Today/Gallup poll found that 42 percent of low-income Americans said Romney’s comments made them less likely to vote for him.