The Washington Post reports:
More than six in 10 Americans see a widening gap between the wealthy and the less well-off in this country, and about as many want the federal government to try to shrink the divide, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Democrats and independents largely support government policies to reduce the wealth gap, while most Republicans oppose such action. The issue cuts even more sharply along a new political fault line, with tea party supporters and those backing the fledgling Occupy Wall Street movement on opposite sides of the question.
I’ve heard lots of chatter lately about how the Occupy movement has succeeded in getting inequality on the policy agenda. Polls like this could be evidence of that. Or it could be that people have always cared about inequality. To see if this is true, I created the following figure using survey data from the General Social Survey. Since the late 70s the GSS has asked the following question:
Some people think that the government in Washington ought to reduce the income differences between the rich and the poor, perhaps by raising the taxes of wealthy families or by giving income assistance to the poor. Others think that the government should not concern itself with reducing this income difference between the rich and the poor. Here is a card with a scale from 1 to 7. Think of a score of 1 as meaning that the government ought to reduce the income differences between rich and poor, and a score of 7 meaning that the government should not concern itself with reducing income differences. What score between 1 and 7 comes closest to the way you feel?
The figure below plots the proportion of respondents favoring government action to reduce income differences (below the midpoint; solid line), those against (above the midpoint; dashed line), and those replying with the midpoint on the scale (dotted line).
Note that the “reduce income differences” category has always had a plurality, though never a majority. Could differences in the way the question is worded account for the apparent 20% jump between the GSS in 2010 and the Washington Post result in 2011?