Poverty is a non-issue in the 2016 Presidential election because we’ve rendered it a non-issue in American life.
At some point during the Reagan / Thatcher era, we stopped talking about class as an economic category and replaced it with an understanding of class as cultural or ideological. Hence, we now have a much richer vocabulary for talking about middle-class values than we do for talking about the social and material conditions necessary for middle-class life.
However, the shift from material conditions to (non-material) values as the lens through which we understand class has had the effect of making it easier for political strategists to shape class interests by shaping cultural values and beliefs.
The long-term effect of poverty becoming a cultural, then a moral issue is that while many people are just a handful of paychecks away from destitution, “the poor” have essentially disappeared from the American imagination.
Even in the age of big data, politics will always be more art than science. Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan understood and embodied the art of politics. And so do legions of natural politicians whose names and deeds are only known to their constituents.
But leaders who have neither the gift nor the passion for the art of politics only have contempt for it. Anti-politics is their only mode of problem-solving, which isn’t problem-solving at all. It’s just ideological posturing. Or worse, bullying.
Still, the audience for anti-politics is huge. And growing. And they are pissed.
Just how unpredictable and unbelievable the 2016 presidential race has become would have been inconceivable a year ago. And yet, there’s a sense in which the torrid and tortured path from then to now has been inevitable. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s nosebleed negatives are partly to blame. But they are merely an effect.
The cause is a deep and broad dissatisfaction with “politics as usual,” the two dominant parties, and perhaps even politics as such. Thus, the very air of modern American politics is charged with frustration as many voters demand other choices.