The rich aren’t like you and me. In public polling, the policy preferences of the top 1 percent of earners look very different than the general public’s.
The Campaign for America’s Future compared recent polling of the 1 percent, or those who have an average income of more than $1 million a year, with an averaging of public opinion polling from groups such as Gallup and Pew of Americans generally. Overall, the general public is strongly in favor of government spending on a variety of anti-poverty, educational, and jobs related initiatives while there is much more tepid support from elites. Meanwhile, the richest among us are quicker to favor deep cuts to services and programs.
When it comes to lifting people up, more than three-quarters of the general public thinks the minimum wage should be high enough that someone working full time doesn’t fall below the poverty line, but just 40 percent of the elites agree. Nearly 90 percent of Americans think the government should spend whatever is necessary to make sure all children can go to high-quality public schools, but just over a third of the richest think so. Nearly 80 percent of the public thinks the government should make sure everyone who wants to go to college can do so, with less than 30 percent of the rich in agreement. More than two-thirds of the population thinks the government should make sure that everyone who wants a job can find one, compared to less than 20 percent of the 1 percent. And the same share of the public wants the government to make sure no one goes without food, clothing, or shelter, compared to 43 percent of the elite.
Opinions also differ on how to pay for priorities. Over half of the general public wants the government to redistribute wealth through heavy taxes on the rich. It may not be surprising that the rich disagree, with only 17 percent in support of such action. Nearly half of the public also thinks the government has a responsibility to reduce differences between the top and the bottom incomes, with just 13 percent of the elites agreeing.
For their part, the rich are far more likely to support cuts to balance the government’s books. Nearly 60 percent of elites favor cuts to domestic programs such as Medicare, education, and highways to close the deficit, but less than 30 percent of the public is in favor. While there is little support for cutting Social Security generally, there is more to be found among the rich, a third of whom support cuts, compared to 10 percent of the public.
These opinions don’t just illuminate differences between the rich and everyone else. They may also help to explain why the priorities favored by large portions of the general public don’t come to pass. A number of studies have found that the wealthiest have the loudest voices on Capitol Hill. Recent research from Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page found that compared to what elites or public interest groups prefer, the preferences of the average American citizen have next to no impact on what policies get passed. On the other hand, if the wealthy support something it gets passed 45 percent of the time, and if they oppose it it’s only adopted about 18 percent of the time. A look at just the Senate similarly found that it is only responsive to the policy preferences of the rich and not those of the middle class or the poor. Plenty of other research has come to the same conclusions.
This is playing out in real time. A push to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, which would lift millions of people out of poverty, failed. Most states are spending less on schools than before the recession. Tax-based aid mostly goes to rich families and Pell Grants, which help low-income families afford the costs, have been cut. Housing subsidies and food stamps have also been cut.