More than 75 years ago, at the tail end of the Great Depression, the Roper research organization and Fortune magazine asked Americans about "heavy taxes on the rich" as one method of redistributing wealth, and found one-third (35%) agreeing that the government should do this. Gallup began asking this question again in 1998, and found Americans' agreement at 45%. Since then, Americans' support for this idea has fluctuated, but has reached a high point of 52% in Gallup's most recent two surveys, conducted in April 2013 and April of this year.
For many years, Republicans have tried to win political arguments with carefully worded phrases, crafted to pack a rhetorical punch. Good ideas for the criminal-justice system were fine, just so long as they weren't "soft on crime." It wouldn't matter if a social-insurance program was effective; it mattered whether the right could label is "welfare."
And sound tax policies can be proposed, but if Republicans can reject the idea as "redistribution of wealth," it's a goner. Such a condemnation was effectively a way to dismiss an idea as socialism.
But what if the American mainstream actually likes the idea of redistributing wealth? Gallup published an interesting report along these lines this week.
Not surprisingly, there are stark differences among various groups. Democrats and independents like the idea of government redistributing wealth with higher taxes on the wealthy, while Republicans don't. Younger Americans like the idea far more than older Americans.
But the broader point is that GOP politicians like to assume that Americans en masse reject the very idea as ridiculous. Clearly, that's not the case -- most of the public actually thinks government redistribution of wealth sounds like a pretty good idea.
This came up a bit towards the end of the 2008 campaign, when then-candidate Barack Obama talked to a guy named "Joe the Plumber" -- who was neither a Joe nor a plumber -- about "spreading the wealth" around. Republicans thought they'd uncover a silver bullet that would change the campaign -- finally, proof that the Democratic candidate held radical economic views.
The whole line of attack, however, turned out to a dud. Apparently, voters didn't see Obama's comments as particularly controversial.
Six years later, with a majority on board with "redistribution of wealth," it seems Republicans will need to rethink their entire line of attack.