The Problem: The anxieties and worries of Middle America

Americans do not have a sense that conservatives offer them a better shot at success and security than liberals. For that to change, conservatives in American politics need to understand constituents’ concerns. -Peter Wehner

The vast majority of Americans consider themselves part of the middle class. Though we tend to think of membership in the middle class as a matter of income, Peter Wehner offers a different definition in this chapter of Room to Grow, which informs the chapters that follow. The middle class refers to Americans who do not consider themselves poor or rich, and who can imagine their fortunes turning either way.

In an era of rapid economic and demographic change, middle-class Americans express hope and optimism about their ability to climb the economic ladder. Yet two-thirds of Americans believe that it will be harder for them to achieve the American Dream than it was for their parents, and three-quarters believe that it will be harder still for their children and grandchildren to do the same. The chief fear of middle-class Americans is that just as it is getting harder for poor people to climb into the middle class, a stagnant economy is making it all too easy for those who have achieved middle class status to fall out of it.

Middle-class adults are far more inclined to believe that Democrats rather than Republicans favor their interests. But middle-class dissatisfaction with both liberals and conservatives runs deep, and this creates an opportunity for conservative reformers. Conservatives must understand the concerns of the middle class and speak to their aspirations and worries. They must offer a concrete conservative agenda that tackles the barriers to upward mobility, and that renews faith in free enterprise and our constitutional system. That is the goal of this collection.

Peter Wehner is senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He served in the last three Republican administrations.