MIDDLE CLASS…. There are plenty of interesting results in the latest CBS/New York Times poll, including a top line that shows Obama leading McCain nationally by 13, 52% to 39%. McCain’s smear tactics and personal attacks appear to have largely backfired; voters are more comfortable with the idea of Obama handling a crisis; and voters don’t seem to mind the notion of raising taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year.

But Nate Silver finds a gem in the internals that’s worth remembering.

Poll respondents were asked which economic class would benefit from the candidates’ tax policies. For McCain, 59% said his policies would benefit the rich, while 11% said the middle class. For Obama, a 38% plurality said his policies would benefit the middle class, 24% said Obama’s plan would benefit all classes equally, and 22% said the poor.

It’s tough to overcome these kinds of numbers, when very few people actually consider themselves rich.

Far more than being a “center-right” country, this is a middle class country, and a candidate who fails to speak to the concerns of the middle class does so at his own peril. […]

There have been plenty of other occasions … on which McCain had plenty of time to contemplate his message, and wound up coming across as tone deaf. The failure to mention the phrase “middle class” even once during the three presidential debates was either brazen, incompetent, or both. The notion that a capital gains tax cut would be persuasive to middle class families was naive. Joe the Plumber is gimmicky, and seems that way to most Americans.

Conversely, it is not as though Obama was Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney — someone who was seen coming into this crisis as an economic savant. But the basic message that a robust middle class is the foundation of economic growth is exactly the right one in troubled times like these, and Obama has delivered it with discipline and grace.

Why is Obama leading? This has a lot to do with it.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.