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Class, Health, and the American Elections

Author: Laurie Garrett, Senior Fellow for Global Health
September 1, 2012
The Lancet

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The national elections are in full campaign swing in the USA, with a strong focus on class emerging in debates to a degree not seen for decades in American politics. The conservative Republican Party leadership has repeatedly accused President Barack Obama of fomenting "class warfare" while the Democrats insist their party is the voice of the country's middle class. Fundamentally, the 2012 election reflects a Grand Canyon scale rift through the national psyche over the importance of government, provision of tax-supported public goods, including health care, and who is responsible for the 2008 financial crisis and ongoing economic doldrums.

Most polls find the electorate evenly divided at polar opposite positions, with about 15—20% of adults self-described as independent or undecided, both for the presidential election and nearly every issue pivotal to the nation's future. On any given day, Obama polls a couple of points above his rival, or a few points behind Republican Mitt Romney, who garners an estimated 3∑3% edge that is anti-Obama based on the President's race. Daily polls simply don't matter in this election. The undecided voters are a highly heterogeneous lot, representing social values and political views that range from the far right of the Tea Party to a nearly anarchist left wing, but they share primary concern over the economy and unemployment, which currently stands at 8∑3%. Most seasoned political observers say that this wide-ranging undecided group will make up its mind for Romney versus Obama in late October, based on the state of the economy, unemployment, and faith in one or the other candidate's financial solutions.

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