Republicans and Democrats are taking up poverty as a priority issue, with Democrats fighting for a higher minimum wage and Republicans zeroing in on promoting a market-based approach to the problem. With an eye to 2016, Republicans are attempting to claim the issue as their own as they wish to lock down the votes of Independents and move away from the perception that they’re only there to coddle the rich.

High-profile Republicans like Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, and Mike Lee have seized the issue, stating that current government programs do not properly address the problem.Democrats are also looking to fight poverty, with their emphasis on raising the minimum wage from it’s current spot at $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2015.

Why has poverty specifically come into the spotlight, rather than returning to the language of jobs, jobs, and jobs?

It’s because America is impoverished, and America will be voting for a new president in a couple years.

One in Three Americans were considered poor for at least two months from 2009 to 2011.The United States hasn’t fully recovered from the economic crisis of 2008, but rather has moved on from the initial shock to the slow burn of poverty. Because of this, politicians have moved a bit away from talk of job creation and more toward a discussion of structural adjustments to reduce the poverty rate.

This is a strategic discussion. With a record-high number of Americans identifying as Independent, prominent politicians of both parties vying for the White House are going to have to focus more than ever before on securing the votes of the undeclared.

Half of America’s impoverished population describe themselves as politically independent.In 2012, 46.2 million people, or 15% of the United States population, lived in poverty.Granted, not all of the 46.2 million are voting in the next election—16.4 million children are impoverished—but it’s a substantial portion of those with the capacity to vote.The Republican Party is going to have to appeal to the impoverished, and that’s not going to be an easy task for them.

This infographic created by the New York Times shows where America’s poor live.

 

In a recent Bloomberg poll, 6 in 10 Americans said that Republicans have focused too much on protecting the wealthy. This doesn’t sit well for most: 57% said that the Republican Party needs a “major overhaul”, and even within the Republican Party, only 16% said their party is fine and doesn’t need to change.The Republican Party needs to shift its message, and it’s responding in a strategic manner with this new focus on fighting poverty. Having tangible policy suggestions to fight poverty will only help top Republican contenders, as Obama and the Democratic Party in general has stoked the perception that Republicans are utterly unsympathetic to the poor at any chance they get.

If the impoverished completely moved away from the Republican Party, it’d be hard for them to recover. However, that’s not likely to be the case. The South is both racked with poverty and historically Republican. Additionally, the impoverished are much less likely to vote, and when they do vote, they generally vote for Republicans. In 2008, voter turnout was at 57.1%, but for the impoverished, only 44.9% made it to the polls. 25% of those making less than $15,000 a year and 37% of those making between $15,000 and $30,000 a year voted Republican. Substantial proportions of the poor are voting for Republican candidates, even though the majority views them as siding with the wealthy.

Perhaps this shift toward helping the poor is indicative of a more reasonable Republican Party, as it attempts to separate itself from the hostile Tea Party. Perhaps both Democrats and Republicans are focusing more on helping the poor because they truly care about their standard of living. Or maybe, just maybe, both parties, Republicans particularly, are realizing that as more of America descends further into the sinkhole of poverty, they’re going to have to appeal to the poor to get into office.

Emma Connell

Class of 2014 at Concordia College. Majoring in Political Science and Philosophy. Involved in Student Government and, of course, The Concordian.

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