Spotlight Exclusives

Politics, Conservatives, and Fighting Poverty

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I work with and for conservatives and Republicans. I۪m a pollster by trade and avocation. For the last seven years I have been periodically, but repetitively, polling what American voters think about issues like poverty and hunger. And I۪ve come to a perhaps surprising conclusion: taking on the fight against poverty is not only the right thing to do; it۪s a politically pretty powerful message for conservative Republicans.

Of course the conventional wisdom is that fighting poverty is a liberal issue. But our polling shows voters of all stripes are open to hearing new ideas for combating poverty, and this issue transcends partisan and ideological lines. Moreover, voters don۪t think only one side has the solution to the problem. No matter the ideology, there are voters who simply want some action that really solves the problem.

When we first did polling in this area, one thing became very clear — while the issue might be considered a liberal one, conservative politicians who embraced the topic might benefit politically more than anyone else. Why? Partly because the liberal caricature of conservative politicians implies that they don۪t care about low-income Americans. I know from working with my clients that۪s not true, but I also know its one of the obstacles we face in campaigns. Coming up with a smart, pro-opportunity strategy, one that helps low-income Americans help themselves without busting budgets, is one step conservative politicians can take that will help make our brand as strong as possible in America.

More recent polling we۪ve done shows another side of how voters see the issue of poverty. The issue has moved up in importance, in one recent poll we did it outranked fighting crime or the environment as a priority. In economically challenging times, voters want leaders who are proposing solutions for everyone. And for some voters, those we۪ve called “do right voters,” fighting poverty and hunger is not only important, it۪s the most important issue. They believe in solutions, and they trust leaders۪ hearts who talk about it.

I saw the other day that Senator McCain had made fighting poverty a priority for his presidential Administration. I was there at the launch of the Spotlight on Poverty website months ago when the idea that each party۪s nominee would make fighting poverty a priority seemed at best uncertain. Now it۪s a reality. That۪s the right thing for the country, but it also reflects a political reality. Voters want the issue tackled with innovation and determination. I think political leaders, from all sides, are going to be stepping up to the challenge more and more.

Mr. McLaughlin is a partner in the firm of McLaughlin& Associates.  A nationallyrecognized opinion expert, he has worked for over 50 members of Congress, 8 U.S. Senatorsand 5 Governors. Among other honors, he has been recognized with a”Movers & Shakers” award by Campaigns and Elections Magazine.

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