When Gallup recently asked Americans what national problems they most worry about, much of the press coverage focused on the finding that only 49% are worried about climate change — an issue on which Democrats seem to be spending a lot of time and political energy.
But here is the one statistic from the Gallup survey that did not get a lot of attention, but should — especially for Republicans:
Of the top 15 problems Americans say they are most worried about, hunger and homelessness came in at #5 in the Gallup rankings — with 76% reporting that they worry a great deal or a fair amount about those who do not have enough to eat or a place to sleep.
Hunger and homelessness came in ahead of a host of issues on which the GOP spends a lot of time and energy — including the size and scope of the federal government (68%), the availability and affordability of energy (67%), the possibility of a future terrorist attack in the U.S. (63%), and illegal immigration (57%).
Even more interesting, Americans’ concern about hunger and homelessness is nearly universal:
72% of Republicans worry a great deal or a fair amount about hunger and homelessness, as do 71% of independents and 85% of Democrats.
So do 70% of conservatives, 76% of moderates, and 84% of liberals.
So do 75% of college graduates, 72% of those with some college, and 78% of those with a high school diploma or less.
So do 73% of young Americans aged 18-34, 78% of middle-aged Americans 35-54, and 79% of those who are 55 or older.
In other words, pretty much everyoneworries about the poor and vulnerable.
Granted there are differences in intensity. For example, 58% of non-whites worry “a great deal” about hunger and homelessness, compared to 38% of whites. And 65% of liberals worry “a great deal” about it compared to 37% of moderates and 32% of conservatives.
But in no group (except those with some college) does the number who say they are “only a little” worried about hunger and homelessness exceed 20%.
And in no group (except young people) does the number who say they are “not at all” worried even reach double digits.
So when Mitt Romney declared during the 2012 campaign “I’m not concerned about the very poor” that sentiment resonated with precisely … 6% of the American electorate.
Not a winning message.
Romney went on to explain that “We have a safety net to help those that are very poor . . . My focus is on middle-income Americans.” The problem with that is middle-income Americans are concerned about the very poor. And they want leaders who share that concern.
If Republicans abandon the poor to the Democrats and focus only on helping the middle class, they will hurt the poor — because Democrats have all the wrong answers for the problems of poverty. But they will also hurt themselves. Because no one, in the middle class or any class, wants to support a party that does not care for the most vulnerable among us.