Americans See Inequality as a Major Problem

NEW YORK , N.Y. – April 5, 2012 – A new Harris Poll examines the issue of inequality and whether or not it has potential traction in the presidential and congressional elections this fall. The results show that it could well be an important issue because a majority of Americans believe that inequality is a major problem and that it is important that the government introduce policies to reduce inequality. Furthermore, large majorities of the public believe that major causes of inequality include the influence of both big business and the rich on government policies, and that increasing taxes on the very rich would be fair and the right thing to do.

However, the poll also finds that the issue is not a slam-dunk for President Obama and the Democrats. Only 39% of all adults believe that President Obama would, as president, do the best job of addressing the issue of inequality. And only a modest 38% to 23% plurality believes that the Democrats would do a better job than the Republicans.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,451 adults surveyed online between March 12 and 19, 2012 by Harris Interactive.

The key findings of this poll include:

  • Only 10% of adults (and only 19% of Republicans) think that economic inequality is not a problem at all. Most people think it is either a major problem (57%) or a minor problem (23%);
  • Most people (62%), including 43% of Republicans and 60% of Independents, think it is important that the government introduce policies to reduce inequality in the U.S., and 34% think this is very important;
  • Inequality is thought to have many causes including the loss of manufacturing jobs to China, India and other countries (81%), the influence of big business (78%) and the very rich (76%) on government, and the tax system (77%);
  • A 60% majority thinks that taxes on the middle class are too high, while most people think that taxes are too low on the people with incomes of $1 million (62%) and on billionaires (69%); and
  • Most people think that increasing taxes on the very rich would be fair (70%), be the right thing to do (69%), and would help to reduce the budget deficit (64%). Only 32% of all adults think that it would hurt the economy because they are the ones who create jobs.

In other words, most people agree with positions taken by President Obama and Democrats on the issue of inequality.

However, other findings of this Harris Poll suggest that it may not be easy for the President’s camp to turn these feelings into votes. When asked which party would be likely to do a better job of addressing the issue of inequality, the Democrats only lead by 38% to 23%, with fully 39% saying an other party or that they are not sure. And, when asked which of the presidential candidates would do the best job of addressing inequality, only 39% choose President Obama, while 36% choose one of the current Republican candidates, and 26% are not sure.

So What?

Over the last few months much has been said and written on the issue of inequality. Attention has been focused on the fact that inequality – and specifically the gap between the very rich and the middle class – have been increasing in the U.S. and are now wider here than in many other countries. It has been suggested that Americans were more willing than people in other developed countries to accept this inequality, in part because they felt they and their children had a good chance of being upwardly mobile and participating in the American Dream. Furthermore, those who talked about inequality have often been accused of class warfare.

This Harris Poll suggests that inequality is now an issue that resonates with most Americans, including most Independents and many Republicans, and which has the potential to be very helpful to the Democrats in the November elections. However – and this may be the biggest surprise in the poll – most people do not believe that the Democrats or President Obama would do a better job than the Republicans on this issue. If the Democrats want to win votes on this issue they have much work to do before most people accept their case.

 

 

TABLE 1

ECONOMIC INEQUALITY AS A PROBLEM OR NOT

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

Political Party

Philosophy

Gender

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Cons.

Mod.

Lib.

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Major problem

57

38

74

56

34

60

82

53

60

Minor problem

23

33

16

24

31

24

9

26

20

Not a problem at all

10

19

2

11

23

6

2

13

7

Not at all sure

10

10

8

9

12

10

8

7

13

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

 

 


 

 

TABLE 2

GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT

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

Base: All adults

 

Total

Political Party

Philosophy

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Cons.

Mod.

Lib.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Important (NET)

62

43

81

60

39

65

87

Very important

34

18

51

32

19

33

60

Somewhat important

28

25

30

28

20

32

27

Not important (NET)

26

47

11

30

46

23

6

Not very important

12

17

8

12

15

13

4

Not at all important

15

30

3

18

31

10

2

Not at all sure

12

10

8

10

15

12

7

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

 

 

 

TABLE 3

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

81

55

26

11

6

5

9

The influence of big business on government policies

78

55

23

13

7

5

9

The tax system

77

49

28

15

9

5

9

The influence of very rich people on government policy

76

56

21

16

10

6

8

The failure of the public school systems to educate many people

73

40

33

18

13

5

9

Globalization of the world economy

68

27

40

20

14

7

12

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

 


 

 

TABLE 4

CAUSES OF INEQUALITY

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

Political Party

Philosophy

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Cons.

Mod.

Lib.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

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

81

84

83

82

78

82

81

The influence of big business on government policies

78

70

88

79

64

83

86

The tax system

77

73

85

76

68

80

82

The influence of very rich people on government policy

76

66

90

75

60

81

88

The failure of the public school systems to educate many people

73

74

76

75

72

73

73

Globalization of the world economy

68

67

73

68

65

69

69

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

 

 

 

TABLE 5

TAXES TOO HIGH OR LOW FOR GROUPS OF PEOPLE

Do you think that taxes on each of the following groups of people are currently fair, or are they too high or low?

Base: All adults

 

Too high

Fair

Too low

Not at all sure

%

%

%

%

Poor people

49

29

11

11

The middle class

60

30

2

8

People with incomes of $200,000 per year

15

37

35

13

People with incomes of $1,000,000 per year

10

18

62

11

Billionaires

7

15

69

9

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TABLE 6

TAXES TOO HIGH OR LOW FOR GROUPS OF PEOPLE

Summary of those saying Too high

Do you think that taxes on each of the following groups of people are currently fair, or are they too high or low?

Base: All adults

 

Total

Political Party

Philosophy

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Cons.

Mod.

Lib.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Poor people

49

35

64

42

33

53

60

The middle class

60

58

64

60

58

61

59

People with incomes of $200,000 per year

15

22

8

17

23

12

9

People with incomes of $1,000,000 per year

10

14

4

12

18

7

5

Billionaires

7

10

4

8

14

5

3

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

 

 

 

TABLE 7

TAXES TOO HIGH OR LOW FOR GROUPS OF PEOPLE

Summary of those saying Too low

Do you think that taxes on each of the following groups of people are currently fair, or are they too high or low?

Base: All adults

 

Total

Political Party

Philosophy

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Cons.

Mod.

Lib.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Poor people

11

18

3

13

21

7

4

The middle class

2

2

2

3

3

2

3

People with incomes of $200,000 per year

35

22

48

32

23

39

44

People with incomes of $1,000,000 per year

62

46

78

57

39

69

77

Billionaires

69

54

85

66

47

76

83

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

 

 

 

TABLE 8

INCREASING TAXES ON THE VERY RICH

How much do you agree or disagree that increasing taxes on the very rich would…

Base: All adults

 

Agree (NET)

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

Disagree (NET)

Somewhat disagree

Strongly disagree

Not at all sure

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Be fair

70

44

26

23

10

13

8

Be the right thing to do

69

45

24

23

10

13

8

Help reduce the budget deficit

64

35

29

27

12

15

9

Hurt the economy because they are the ones create jobs

32

15

17

58

26

32

10

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

 

 

 

 

TABLE 9

INCREASING TAXES ON THE VERY RICH

How much do you agree or disagree that increasing taxes on the very rich would…

Summary of those saying Strongly agree or Somewhat agree

Base: All adults

 

Total

Political Party

Philosophy

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Cons.

Mod.

Lib.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Be fair

70

52

90

66

49

76

85

Be the right thing to do

69

52

88

65

47

76

83

Help reduce the budget deficit

64

48

83

59

44

69

78

Hurt the economy because they are the ones create jobs

32

52

17

35

55

26

13

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

 

 

 

TABLE 10

ADDRESSING THE ISSUE OF INEQUALITY

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

38

8

79

27

14

42

66

Republican Party

23

59

4

17

47

16

5

Other

10

6

2

21

11

10

8

Not at all sure

29

27

15

35

28

32

20

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

 

 

 

TABLE 11

BEST PRESIDENT TO ADDRESS THE ISSUE OF INEQUALITY

As President, who do you think would do the best job of addressing the issue of inequality?

Base: All adults

 

Total

Political Party

Philosophy

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Cons.

Mod.

Lib.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

President Barack Obama

39

6

74

32

12

43

69

Republican candidates (NET)

36

67

11

40

60

30

12

Mitt Romney

11

23

4

11

17

11

3

Ron Paul

11

12

4

18

13

11

5

Rick Santorum

9

22

1

6

19

5

3

Newt Gingrich

5

10

2

5

11

3

1

Not at all sure

26

26

15

28

27

27

18

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

 

 

 

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between March 12 and 19, 2012 among 2,451 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, Harris Interactive 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 Interactive 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 the Harris Interactive 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 Harris Interactive.

J41436

Q915, 920, 925, 940, 943, 945, 948

 

The Harris Poll ® #37, April 5, 2012

By Humphrey Taylor, Chairman, The Harris Poll

About Harris Interactive

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