Two-Thirds of Americans Want Government Policies Introduced to Reduce Economic Inequality

    NEW YORK , N.Y. – April 22, 2014 – A strong majority of Americans believe economic inequality in the U.S. today is a problem (79%), with over half believing more specifically that it’s a major problem (54%). Overall, the perception of economic inequality being a problem in the United States has changed little from 2012 (80%).

    Opinions diverge widely along partisan lines, with seven in ten Democrats (70%) seeing it as a major problem, compared to just over one-third of Republicans (36%); Independents fall between the two parties, though it’s worth noting that the majority of Independents (55%) sees economic inequality as a major problem.

    These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,234 U.S. adults surveyed online between March 12 and 17, 2014.

    As might be expected, perceived urgency is also tied to income, with those in households earning less than $75,000 annually more likely than those earning $100,000 or more to see it as a major problem (59% among those with HH incomes under $35k, 61% among those earning $35k-$49.9k and 59% among those with $50k-$74.9k in annual income vs. 45% among those earning $100k+).

    As for the nature of economic inequality in the United States, majorities of Americans agree both that it’s a political issue (72%) and that it’s a moral one (59%).

    • Majorities agree across the political spectrum that it’s a political issue, albeit with Democrats most likely to agree with this (82%), Republicans least likely (60%) and Independents in the middle (72%).
    • A strong majority of Democrats (73%) and a more moderate majority of Independents (55%) also agree that it’s a moral issue, while just over four in ten Republicans (43%) agree with this.

    Pushing for Policy

    Two-thirds (66%) of Americans feel it’s important that the government introduce policies to reduce inequality in the U.S. (up from 62% in 2012), with four in ten (40%, up from 34% in 2012) identifying it as very important.

    • The vast majority of Democrats (86%) believe such action is important, with six in ten (60%) specifically calling it out as very important. Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to perceive such action as important (43% Rep.) and more than three times as likely to specify that it’s very important (18% Rep.); Independents fall between the two parties on both measures, with nearly two-thirds (65%) seeing it as important overall and nearly four in ten (37%) seeing it as very important.
    • Millennials are the generation most likely to see such government action as important, while matures are least likely to say this (76% Millennials; 68% Gen Xers; 64% Baby Boomers; 50% Matures).

    How did this happen?

    When asked how much a series of factors are causes of inequality in the United States today, strong majorities see each as contributing either a great deal or somewhat. Roughly eight in ten see the loss of manufacturing jobs to China, India and other low cost countries (83%); the tax system (81%); the influence of big business on government policies (80%); and the influence of very rich people on government policy (78%) as causes of inequality. Three-fourths (75%) point to the failure of the public school systems to educate many people, while roughly two-thirds each perceive the globalization of the world economy (67%), restrictions on businesses which prevent them from creating more jobs (66%) and the current minimum wage (65%) as causes. Most factors’ perceived contributions to the issue have changed little since 2012, though the perception of the tax system as a contributing factor has risen slightly (from 77% to 81%).

    • Democrats are more likely than Republicans to point to the tax system as a cause of the problem, though strong majorities of both groups see it as a cause (84% Dem. vs. 77% Rep.).
    • Democrats and Independents are both considerably more likely than Republicans to point to the influence of big business on government policies (88% Dem. and 84% Ind. vs. 68% Rep.) and the influence of very rich people on government policy (88% and 81% vs. 61%, respectively), while Independents fall more squarely between the two camps when it comes to identifying the current minimum wage rate as a root cause (with 64% identifying it as such, vs. 43% Rep. and 82% Dem.).
    • Republicans are more likely to cite restrictions on businesses which prevent them from creating more jobs, with Independents again standing in the middle ground (78% Rep. vs. 66% Ind. vs. 57% Dem.).

    While most U.S. adults seem to agree that the influence of the rich is a cause of economic inequality, Americans are more divided on whether the rich are more broadly – and unfairly – getting a bad rap, with just under half (47%) agreeing that the rich have become scapegoats for everything that’s wrong in the U.S. and just over half (53%) disagreeing with this.

    • Two-thirds of Republicans (68%) agree with this, vs. one-third of Democrats (33%); just under half of Independents (46%) agree.

    Who can best address it?

    When asked which political party is likely to do a better job of addressing issues of unfairness and inequality, a plurality of Americans (35%) point to the Democratic party, while two in ten (21%) believe the Republican party will do a better job and 7% put their hope in another party. Nearly one-fourth (23%) respond with a dismissive none, while 14% are unsure.

    • Not surprisingly, majorities of Democrats (73%) and Republicans (61%) believe their own party is likely to do a better job of addressing such issues. More telling is the stance of Independents, with the highest percentage (35%) indicating that none of the parties is likely to do a better job of it. Some do make a pick though, and Independents are more than twice as likely to identify Democrats (25%) over Republicans (10%) as the party for the job, with 13% saying another party would do a better job and nearly two in ten (17%) being unsure.

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    TABLE 1a

    ECONOMIC INEQUALITY A PROBLEM OR NOT

    By Political Party & Political Philosophy

    Do you think that economic inequality in the U.S. today is a major problem, a minor problem or not a problem at all?

    Base: All adults

     

    2012 Total

    2014 Total

    Political Party

    Philosophy

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    Cons.

    Mod.

    Lib.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Major problem

    57

    54

    36

    70

    55

    34

    57

    77

    Minor problem

    23

    25

    29

    20

    26

    28

    27

    14

    Not a problem at all

    10

    13

    26

    4

    13

    26

    8

    5

    Not at all sure

    10

    8

    9

    6

    7

    12

    8

    5

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 1b

    ECONOMIC INEQUALITY A PROBLEM OR NOT

    By Generation & Annual Household Income

    Do you think that economic inequality in the U.S. today is a major problem, a minor problem or not a problem at all?

    Base: All adults

     

    Total

    Generation

    Annual HH Income

    Echo Boomers (18-36)

    Gen Xers (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    <$35k

    $35k-$49.9k

    $50k-$74.9k

    $75k-$99.9k

    $100k+

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Major problem

    54

    54

    55

    58

    47

    59

    61

    59

    55

    45

    Minor problem

    25

    26

    27

    21

    25

    21

    18

    22

    30

    33

    Not a problem at all

    13

    10

    11

    14

    19

    9

    14

    13

    12

    16

    Not at all sure

    8

    10

    7

    7

    8

    11

    7

    6

    3

    6

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 2a

    IMPORTANCE OF GOVERNMENT INTRODUCING POLICIES TO REDUCE INEQUALITY

    By Political Party & Political Philosophy

    How important do you think it is that the government introduce policies to reduce inequality in the U.S.?

    Base: All adults

     

    2012 Total

    2014 Total

    Political Party

    Philosophy

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    Cons.

    Mod.

    Lib.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Important (NET)

    62

    66

    43

    86

    65

    40

    72

    90

    Very important

    34

    40

    18

    60

    37

    19

    40

    69

    Somewhat important

    28

    27

    24

    27

    28

    21

    32

    21

    Not important (NET)

    26

    25

    50

    7

    27

    51

    19

    5

    Not very important

    12

    10

    19

    4

    11

    16

    10

    3

    Not important at all

    15

    15

    31

    3

    16

    35

    9

    2

    Not at all sure

    12

    8

    8

    6

    8

    9

    9

    5

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding


    TABLE 2b

    IMPORTANCE OF GOVERNMENT INTRODUCING POLICIES TO REDUCE INEQUALITY

    By Generation & Annual Household Income

    How important do you think it is that the government introduce policies to reduce inequality in the U.S.?

    Base: All adults

     

    Total

    Generation

    Annual HH Income

    Echo Boomers (18-36)

    Gen Xers (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    <$35k

    $35k-$49.9k

    $50k-$74.9k

    $75k-$99.9k

    $100k+

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Important (NET)

    66

    76

    68

    64

    50

    74

    68

    70

    64

    62

    Very important

    40

    46

    40

    39

    27

    48

    47

    41

    29

    37

    Somewhat important

    27

    30

    28

    24

    23

    26

    22

    29

    35

    25

    Not important (NET)

    25

    16

    24

    29

    41

    15

    23

    25

    31

    34

    Not very important

    10

    8

    11

    10

    13

    7

    7

    10

    14

    14

    Not important at all

    15

    8

    12

    18

    28

    8

    16

    15

    17

    20

    Not at all sure

    8

    8

    9

    8

    9

    11

    9

    5

    4

    4

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 3a

    CAUSES OF INEQUALITY

    How much do you think that each of the following is a cause of inequality in the U.S. today?

    Base: All adults

     

    Great deal/ Somewhat (NET)

    A great deal

    Somewhat

    Not very much/ Not at all (NET)

    Not very much

    Not at all

    Not at all sure

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    The loss of manufacturing jobs to China, India and other low cost countries

    83

    57

    25

    10

    6

    4

    7

    The tax system

    81

    52

    29

    13

    7

    5

    6

    The influence of big business on government policies

    80

    57

    23

    13

    7

    6

    7

    The influence of very rich people on government policy

    78

    57

    21

    15

    9

    6

    7

    The failure of the public school systems to educate many people

    75

    44

    31

    19

    12

    6

    6

    Globalization of the world economy

    67

    28

    39

    20

    12

    8

    13

    Restrictions on businesses which prevent them from creating more jobs

    66

    39

    27

    26

    15

    11

    8

    The current minimum wage rate

    65

    33

    32

    30

    15

    15

    5

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding


    TABLE 3b

    CAUSES OF INEQUALITY

    By Political Party & Political Philosophy

    How much do you think that each of the following is a cause of inequality in the U.S. today?

    Those saying A great deal or Somewhat

    Base: All adults

     

    2012 Total

    2014 Total

    Political Party

    Philosophy

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    Cons.

    Mod.

    Lib.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    The loss of manufacturing jobs to China, India and other low cost countries

    81

    83

    81

    84

    86

    80

    83

    85

    The tax system

    77

    81

    77

    84

    81

    78

    80

    85

    The influence of big business on government policies

    78

    80

    68

    88

    84

    66

    84

    91

    The influence of very rich people on government policy

    76

    78

    61

    88

    81

    60

    82

    93

    The failure of the public school systems to educate many people

    73

    75

    73

    75

    78

    74

    75

    77

    Globalization of the world economy

    68

    67

    65

    67

    68

    64

    68

    68

    Restrictions on businesses which prevent them from creating more jobs

    NA

    66

    78

    57

    66

    77

    64

    53

    The current minimum wage rate

    NA

    65

    43

    82

    64

    41

    71

    84

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 3c

    CAUSES OF INEQUALITY

    By Generation & Annual Household Income

    How much do you think that each of the following is a cause of inequality in the U.S. today?

    Those saying A great deal or Somewhat

    Base: All adults

     

    Total

    Generation

    Annual HH Income

    Echo Boomers (18-36)

    Gen Xers (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    <$35k

    $35k-$49.9k

    $50k-$74.9k

    $75k-$99.9k

    $100k+

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    The loss of manufacturing jobs to China, India and other low cost countries

    83

    77

    83

    85

    92

    79

    82

    88

    87

    84

    The tax system

    81

    75

    82

    82

    88

    79

    80

    82

    83

    82

    The influence of big business on government policies

    80

    79

    79

    81

    83

    80

    82

    84

    81

    77

    The influence of very rich people on government policy

    78

    76

    78

    79

    77

    81

    79

    79

    83

    72

    The failure of the public school systems to educate many people

    75

    73

    75

    75

    81

    75

    78

    82

    73

    70

    Globalization of the world economy

    67

    64

    66

    69

    68

    61

    66

    71

    69

    69

    Restrictions on businesses which prevent them from creating more jobs

    66

    66

    64

    62

    78

    66

    65

    66

    68

    64

    The current minimum wage rate

    65

    68

    62

    67

    57

    72

    61

    68

    63

    59

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 4a

    ADDRESSING THE ISSUE OF UNFAIRNESS/INEQUALITY

    By Political Party & Political Philosophy

    Which political party do you think is likely to do a better job of addressing issues of unfairness and inequality?

    Base: All adults

    Total

    Political Party

    Philosophy

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    Cons.

    Mod.

    Lib.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Democratic Party

    35

    3

    73

    25

    11

    36

    67

    Republican Party

    21

    61

    2

    10

    44

    14

    3

    Other

    7

    3

    1

    13

    8

    6

    7

    None

    23

    23

    12

    35

    26

    25

    15

    Not at all sure

    14

    9

    11

    17

    12

    19

    7

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 4b

    ADDRESSING THE ISSUE OF UNFAIRNESS/INEQUALITY

    By Generation & Annual Household Income

    Which political party do you think is likely to do a better job of addressing issues of unfairness and inequality?

    Base: All adults

     

    Total

    Generation

    Annual HH Income

    Millennials (18-36)

    Gen Xers (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    <$35k

    $35k-$49.9k

    $50k-$74.9k

    $75k-$99.9k

    $100k+

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Democratic Party

    35

    36

    37

    36

    27

    38

    35

    33

    35

    36

    Republican Party

    21

    17

    15

    22

    33

    14

    23

    19

    24

    26

    Other

    7

    8

    8

    5

    6

    8

    5

    7

    5

    7

    None

    23

    18

    29

    25

    24

    21

    25

    27

    25

    23

    Not at all sure

    14

    21

    11

    13

    10

    18

    12

    13

    11

    9

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 5a

    AGREE/DISAGREE WITH INEQUALITY STATEMENTS

    How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements??

    Base: All adults

     

    Agree (NET)

    Strongly agree

    Somewhat agree

    Disagree (NET)

    Somewhat disagree

    Strongly disagree

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Economic inequality in the U.S. is a political issue.

    72

    28

    45

    28

    16

    12

    Economic inequality in the U.S. is a moral issue.

    59

    19

    39

    41

    25

    16

    The rich have become scapegoats for everything that’s wrong in the U.S.

    47

    20

    28

    53

    22

    31

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding


    TABLE 5b

    AGREE WITH INEQUALITY STATEMENTS

    By Political Party & Political Philosophy

    How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements??

    Those saying Strongly agree or Somewhat agree

    Base: All adults

     

    2014 Total

    Political Party

    Philosophy

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    Cons.

    Mod.

    Lib.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Economic inequality in the U.S. is a political issue.

    72

    60

    82

    72

    60

    75

    83

    Economic inequality in the U.S. is a moral issue.

    59

    43

    73

    55

    40

    64

    73

    The rich have become scapegoats for everything that’s wrong in the U.S.

    47

    68

    33

    46

    71

    42

    27

     

    TABLE 5c

    AGREE WITH INEQUALITY STATEMENTS

    By Generation & Annual Household Income

    How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements??

    Those saying A great deal or Somewhat

    Base: All adults

     

    2014 Total

    Generation

    Annual HH Income

    Millennials (18-36)

    Gen Xers (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    <$35k

    $35k-$49.9k

    $50k-$74.9k

    $75k-$99.9k

    $100k+

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Economic inequality in the U.S. is a political issue.

    72

    76

    70

    72

    70

    75

    69

    79

    68

    67

    Economic inequality in the U.S. is a moral issue.

    59

    63

    60

    56

    55

    61

    59

    66

    59

    50

    The rich have become scapegoats for everything that’s wrong in the U.S.

    47

    51

    42

    44

    55

    42

    45

    42

    56

    52

     

    Methodology

    This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between March 12 and 17, 2014 among 2,234 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

    All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

    Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

    These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

    The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

    Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

    The Harris Poll #38, April 22, 2014

    By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

    About Nielsen & The Harris Poll

    On February 3, 2014, Nielsen acquired Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll. Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit www.nielsen.com.