The rich, the poor, and today's vote

by Joe Ferullo

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At the end of last week, both Demetria Martinez and I wrote here about the widening gap between rich and poor in America -- and how that has most likely contributed to political polarization over the last generation. But the reality is this: that income gap has not sparked electoral dividing lines that make economic sense.

At the turn of the last century, a similar income gap was the catalyst for a growing union movement, seeking basic rights and decent wages for workers. Those have-nots aligned themselves sporadically with the Democrats -- seeing government action on the federal level as the main way to guarantee fairness.

This time, it is different: the income gap is just as wide (perhaps wider, according to some estimations), but for more than a generation, the Democrats have had a hard time making the working voter their friend -- despite policies aimed at helping the middle and working class.

So why do Democrats have the toughest time in the hardest hit parts of the nation -- and not just this election day, but nearly every one?

The answer, it seems, is because Democrats tend to believe government is part of the solution -- and too many Americans too often disagree.

Just how deep is this voter antipathy? The latest New York Times/CBS poll provides an indication.

In the poll, surprisingly few respondents blamed President Obama or even Congress for the economic mess we are currently in. They tended to blame the Bush team and Wall Street in substantially larger numbers -- which would seem to be good news for Democrats.

But that same poll shows a deep distrust of government at all levels -- conservatives, white, females. seniors, college-educated, people between 45-and-64: seventy percent or more of them don't think the government does the right thing most of the time. Even 62 percent of liberals agree with that.

That lack of trust in government lays just below the surface -- and boils up when a healthcare overhaul is debated, when mortgages are saved and banks bailed out.

At the same time voters recognize that progress needs to be made in critical areas, more and more of them just don't trust the government to really solve problems. Conservatives are certain government will over-reach; liberals will feel the hacks in D.C are too timid. So better the politicians just stay out of it and let us all muddle along as best we can.

And the things that work, like Medicare and Social Security? Just leave them alone.

You can tell people all day long that this policy will work, that program will make a difference. You can point to legislation passed and laws enacted. But for many, that is actually part of the problem.

Government distrust makes a lot of voters who need government help the most repeat the phrase I first heard uttered by conservative writer George Will: don't just do something - stand there.

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