How Do Americans Feel About Wealth Redistribution?

Should the Rich Pay Higher Taxes?

Wealth in America
Should US Income and Wealth be Redistributed?. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

While the issue of income inequality may seem like a hot topic, Americans’ opinions on how the nation’s money and wealth should be distributed have changed very little since 1984, according to a recent Gallup poll.

The survey of 1,015 adults nationwide conducted April 9-12, 2015, showed that the 63% of Americans believe wealth should be more evenly distributed among a larger percentage of the people remains largely unchanged from the 60% who said the same thing in 1984.

During April 2008, the last year of the George W. Bush presidency and one of the hardest years of the Great Recession, a record high 68% of Americans said money and wealth should be more evenly distributed.

In the 13 times the Gallup poll has asked the question since 1984, an average of 62% of Americans favored spreading the wealth around more evenly.

The Have and Have Less Effect

As you might expect, Americans’ opinions on distributing money depend heavily on how much of it they have.

Only 42% of persons with household incomes of $75,000 or more agree that wealth should be more evenly distributed, compared to 61% of persons with incomes below $30,000, according to the poll. The ages of the respondents made little difference.

And Then, There’s Politics

Just as predictable was Americans’ opinion on wealth distribution based on their politics.

Agreement that wealth should be more evenly distributed ranged from 86% among Democrats and 85% among liberals, down to 34% among Republicans and 42% among conservatives.

“Addressing the problem is a moot issue for many Republicans, a majority of whom say the distribution is fair as it is. Most Democrats, on the other hand, presumably endorse some mechanism by which the distribution of wealth and income could be made less unequal,” stated the Gallup analysis.

And, presumably, the only “mechanism” the government has to control the distribution of wealth and income is?

You guessed it, taxes.

And How Shall We Spread the Wealth

If, as most Democrats and liberals say it should, the nation’s wealth is to be more evenly distributed, how should it be done?  Well, unless the Republicans and conservatives decide to donate a part of their income, we’re talking higher taxes for the wealthy.

More than 75 years ago, pollsters began been asking Americans the hard question, “Do think the government should or should not redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich?”

In the early 1940s, at the tail end of the Great Depression, the Roper research organization and Fortune magazine surveyed Americans’ opinions on the federal government using “heavy taxes on the rich” as means of redistributing wealth. According to Gallup, those early polls showed that about 35% said the government should do so.

When Gallup asked the same question in 1998, about 45% said the government should impose higher taxes on the rich. Support for higher taxes on the rich reached a high of 52% in 2013.

In analyzing how Americans respond to both questions about income and wealth inequality, Gallup finds that about 46% “strongly” favor redistribution of wealth and support heavier taxes on the rich.

Another 16% say that while the present state of income and wealth distribution is not fair, they oppose heavy taxes as a solution.

Of course, even if the government does impose higher taxes on the rich, there is as yet no guarantee that money raised from those taxes would indeed be redistributed to those with lower incomes or spent on other things.