President Obama’s State of the Union address probably won’t be finalized for a few more days, but White House insiders are already letting folks know that it will include a “healthy dose” of emphasis on income inequality.
And while the details of the message will certainly matter, if the latest report from the Pew Research Center is any indication, it’s likely the president’s message will land on fertile soil with the American mainstream.
The new national survey by the Pew Research Center and USA TODAY, conducted Jan. 15-19 among 1,504 adults, finds that 65% believe the gap between the rich and everyone else has increased in the last 10 years. This view is shared by majorities across nearly all groups in the public, including 68% of Democrats and 61% of Republicans.Yet there is a sharp disagreement over whether this gap needs government attention. Among Democrats, 90% say the government should do “a lot” or “some” to reduce the gap between the rich and everyone else, including 62% who say it should do a lot. But only half as many Republicans (45%) think the government should do something about this gap, with just 23% saying it should do a lot. Instead, nearly half of Republicans say the government should do “not much” (15%) or “nothing at all” (33%) about the wealth divide.
For all the assumptions about the United States being a “center-right nation,” these results suggest that when it comes to income inequality, most Americans reject the common Republican refrain that class barriers don’t exist.
Matt Yglesias added that the results suggest the American public “broadly endorses class warfare,” adding that on “a broad thematic level, people definitely seem ready to spread the wealth around.”
Indeed, the closer one looks, the more distance there appears to be between Republican talking points on the wealth/income gap and the views of most of the country.
For example, 54% of Americans support raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations in order to expand programs for the poor. A 63% majority supports extending federal unemployment wins. A whopping 73% support increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10.
Greg Sargent had a good piece about the larger significance.
The key here is that the question does not ask whether we should raise taxes on the rich to pay down the deficit, as many other polls do. Respondents are asked if we should raise taxes on the rich to expand the safety net as a way to reduce poverty, and a majority says Yes – far more than saying the best way to help the poor is by cutting taxes on the job creators. […]The poll also shows the public rejects the GOP Hammock Theory of Poverty – the idea that the safety net lulls people into dependency. Forty-nine percent think government aid to the poor “does more good than harm because people can’t get out of poverty until basic needs are met,” versus 44 percent who think it does “more harm than good by making people too dependent on government.”
In the abstract, there’s little public appetite for government. In economics, there’s considerable public appetite for government to improve the material conditions of struggling families.