Monmouth Poll: less than half of country believes Obama wants to help middle class

Today’s Monmouth University Poll finds that President Barack Obama commands limited credibility with the middle class.

According to the poll, the American public is split on the veracity of Obama’s announcement that he wants to refocus the remainder of his term on helping the middle class.  Less than half (46%) believe the president when he says this, while exactly half (50%) do not believe him.  The vast majority of Democrats (78%) take the president at his word, but nearly all Republicans (87%) do not.  Independents tend to be more skeptical (54%) than trusting (42%) of the president’s claim.

Americans put the middle class at the bottom of the list for groups who have been helped by Obama’s policies, the poll reports.  

Among five different groups asked about in the poll, Wall Street bankers are the most likely to be seen as doing well under Obama, with 44% of Americans saying this group has benefited a lot and 26% saying they benefited a little from the president’s policies.  Wealthy families (35% a lot and 31% a little) and health insurance companies (34% a lot and 27% a little) are next in line as perceived beneficiaries of Obama’s policies.  Just 20% of Americans say poor families have benefited a lot and 39% say they have benefited a little during the Obama era.

Middle class families, though, stand at the bottom of the list – below both rich and poor.  Only 12% of Americans say the middle class has benefited a lot from Obama’s policies and 39% say it has benefited a little.  In fact, nearly half (46%) say that middle class families have not benefited at all.  This is significantly higher than the number who say no benefits have been seen by Wall Street (14%), wealthy families (23%), health insurers (26%), or even poor families (37%).

“Given President Obama’s track record with the middle class, this new focus may be seen as too little too late,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch.  “Of course, some of the problem may lie in the acrimonious relationship between the President and the House of Representatives.”

In spite of perceptions of his policies to date, a majority (55%) of Americans think it is at least somewhat likely that Obama will propose policies to help the middle class.  On the other hand, just 30% say it is likely that Congress will enact any of these measures.  There is a partisan divide on the president’s intentions – 84% of Democrats, 50% of independents, and 24% of Republicans say Obama is likely to propose policies to help the middle class.  There is no such gap when it comes to the probability that Congress will act on such policies – just 31% of Democrats, 28% of independents, and 32% of Republicans say Congressional action is likely.

Obama outlined six cornerstones for his new middle-class policy.  The Monmouth University Poll finds that Americans feel some are more important than the others.  Specifically, about 3-in-4 say that health care costs (79%), being able to save for retirement (75%), and a lack of jobs (73%) are major problems facing the middle class right now.  Of somewhat lesser importance are access to good, affordable education (56% major problem) and housing and mortgage costs (52% major problem).  Less than half (46%) say that inequality and a lack of opportunity for certain groups are a major problem for the middle class.  There are only very slight partisan differences in rating these items as major problems facing the middle class.

The poll also found that 42% of Americans approve of Obama’s overall job performance while 51% disapprove.  Just 28% say the country is headed in the right direction and 63% say it is on the wrong track.

The latest Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone with a national random sample of 1,012 adults age 18 and older from July 25 to 30, 2013.  This sample has a margin of error of + 3.1 percent.  The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch.

"He’s obviously working very, very hard at it. I mean he’s traveling all over the country as chairman of the [Republican Governors Association] and I think at this point he has as good a chance or better than anybody else. His name is household word all across the country, and I think he would make a great president."
—former U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton (R-3), on Gov. Chris Christie