The Democratic presidential primaries have been upended by Bernie Sanders's populist revolution on the "left," which has tapped into the deep discontent of a broad swath of the population that is still suffering the after-shocks of the Great Recession. Sanders' success has forced Hillary Clinton to adjust her rhetoric. Claiming she is the real "progressive" who will get "Wall Street to work for Main Street," Hillary insists she is best equipped to bring about the reforms needed to improve the lives of working families and hard-working Americans.
Both Sanders and Clinton invoke the hardships suffered by the large section of the population that has been bypassed over the seven years of economic recovery. Both candidates draw attention to an electorate that has been shut out of the political process by the billionaire 1 percent class. Both use the term "middle-class" to describe this broad segment of the population, the 99 percent. However, folding the poor, at the bottom end of the 99 percent, into the middle class does not serve the cause of their campaigns. More important, it does nothing to negate the image of the "undeserving poor" and reestablish people living in poverty as full members of our society.
In their campaign strategies, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders ignore the pervasiveness of poverty, the unique experience of people living in poverty, the growth in the number of households at the bottom of the income distribution. It is this segment of the population that suffers the greatest hardships and is most likely to be supportive of the safety-net policies the candidates are proposing. It is this group that is most likely to be sympathetic to "populist" rhetoric -- but least likely to participate in the election process.