Spotlight Exclusives

One in Four Americans Fear Hunger as Food Prices Soar, by Max Finberg and Ann Steensland of the Alliance to End Hunger

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The rapidly increasing cost of food does not just mean higher grocery bills; it means more hungry people. This month, the Alliance to End Hunger released a startling new poll revealing that one in four American voters (28 percent) fear that they or someone they know will go hungry. In some regions of the country, that number is one in three. Another 37 percent of voters said they have cut back on the amount of food they buy.

We are seeing a substantial increase in requests for assistance to prevent people and their families from going hungry. Our public and private safety nets are being stretched to the limit by the growing demand.

Hunger in America is not a new phenomenon and American voters know it. Our previous polling has shown that the number of voters who believe that the problem of hunger in the U.S. is getting worse has increased by 25 percent in the last five years. Sixty-nine percent say that the federal government is spending too little to reduce hunger in the U.S., up from 55 percent in 2002.

Voters are equally concerned about world hunger. Two-thirds (68 percent) believe the U.S. government should do more to respond to the global hunger crisis, including 2 out of 5 (39 percent) who want the U.S. to invest substantially more in long-term solutions like providing aid to help farmers in hungry countries to produce more food.

Hunger – a “political condition”

More Americans are in danger of hunger and voters clearly want action, so why isn۪t more being done? Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the leading hunger advocate in Congress and a Spotlight contributor, says it is all comes down to political will. “Hunger is a political condition. We have the resources, we have the infrastructure, we have everything we need to end hunger except the political will.”

There are heroes for hungry people in Congress like Rep. McGovern and Rep. JoAnn Emerson of Missouri who led the fight for an additional $10 billion in domestic nutrition programs in the 2008 Farm Bill. And there are others who regularly champion the cause like Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Betty McCollum, and Rep. Frank Wolf. But much more could be done if more leaders understood that feeding hungry people is not just a moral imperative; it is a political issue and voters are paying attention.

Our poll shows that reducing hunger at home and abroad is a major concern for voters in the 2008 election. High food prices tied with the war in Iraq on a list of issues that voters would like to hear more about solving from candidates for political office. Rising fuel prices, one of the leading causes of the escalating cost of food, topped the list.

Candidates for the House and Senate looking to win over undecided voters would do well to address rising food prices. One third of undecided voters for Congress chose high food prices as the issue they would like to hear more about from political candidates. The presidential candidates would also be wise to speak about hunger and high food prices more frequently. One in three undecided voters for President worry that they or someone they know will go hungry.

The silver lining in our polling is that Americans remain optimistic about our nation۪s ability to end hunger. Our polls have shown that over 75 percent of voters believe that we could dramatically reduce hunger in the U.S., if we made it a national priority. Hunger is the great political “sleeper” issue. If more of our leaders wake up to the idea that fighting hunger is morally right and politically advantageous, we can reverse the tide of this hunger crisis and improve the lives of hungry people everywhere.

Max Finberg is the director and Ann Steensland is the manager of communications of the Alliance to End Hunger.

The polling for our Hunger Message Project was done by the bi-partisan team of Republican pollster Jim McLaughlin and Democratic consultant Tom Freedman. They have been surveying voter attitudes on hunger and poverty for the Alliance since 2002.

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