"In some sense, that's an improvement," Harris-Dawson said. "In races in the recent past, poor people have been a topic — they're taking all your money, and you need to cut them off."
Romney found himself trespassing in that neighborhood last month, with the release of a video showing him telling wealthy donors that 47% of all Americans pay no income taxes and "believe they are victims" entitled to a free ride. Harsh words from a multimillionaire who stockpiles money overseas and pays about 14% in taxes, but Romney has since refrained from clubbing the multitudes less fortunate than himself. And Ryan, in his debate, said his ticket wants to "get people out of poverty" and into, of course, the middle class.
Obama and Romney have clearly made a calculated risk in saying little about the poor for fear of driving away middle-class voters. But will it backfire, with low-income people not turning out to vote or voting against the candidate they see as most hostile to the poor?
Harris-Dawson thinks not. He thinks Obama still has an advantage with the working poor, because they approve of Obamacare and believe Obama is more apt to support public education and community colleges in poor communities.
And yet, said Harris-Dawson, many poor people have an interesting thing in common.
They don't consider themselves poor.
"We actually came up with a list of people on welfare and went door-to-door, and do you know what? The majority of people said they were not poor," said Harris-Dawson, who thinks the candidates may be aware of this phenomenon.
He said people who were out of work framed it as a temporary condition related to the distressed economy or some other factor.
"Being poor has been so demonized. Being poor means being on 'Jerry Springer.' That's what it means nowadays, and who wants to be on 'Jerry Springer?'"
Yes, and it means that in 2012, with 46 million people living in poverty — 16 million of them children — candidates for president of the United States seem to think it won't matter if they pretend you don't exist.