PRINCETON, NJ -- Slightly over half of Americans believe the government should redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich.
The percentage holding this view, similar to that found in Gallup polling last year, is up from 1998 and in particular is higher than was found in a Roper poll conducted for Fortune Magazine back in 1939. Although the methods and sampling of polling done in the 1930s may differ significantly from those of today, the rough comparison suggests that Americans appear to have become even more "redistributionist" in their views than they were at the tail end of the Depression.
Other recent Gallup Poll questions underscore the finding that Americans are generally open to the idea of some type of effort to distribute wealth more evenly.
Asked if the distribution of money and wealth in this country is fair or if they need to be distributed more evenly, about two-thirds of Americans agree with the latter response. This is up slightly from last year and, by two points, is the highest "more evenly distributed" response to this question that Gallup has found over the eight times it has been asked since 1984.
The results of another question Gallup asks each April find 63% of Americans saying upper-income Americans pay "too little" in taxes (although this percentage is down slightly from previous polling).
One reason it may be easy for Americans to readily agree with wealth redistribution and increased taxes on the rich is that most Americans do not perceive themselves to be rich and therefore presumably assume they have nothing to fear -- financially -- from such new policies.
Analysis of the responses to these two questions by income shows that there are some differences by respondents' income, but these differences are not large.
One issue here is that the top income category Gallup uses is $75,000 and higher, representing a little more than a quarter of the population. Clearly, results might have been different had it been possible to isolate a sample of those making, for example, $200,000 a year or more.
The possibility of some type of political policy that would institute higher tax rates on high-income households was discussed in the recent Philadelphia debate between the two Democratic contenders, and both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama appeared to agree with some variant of this type of policy (although both are multimillionaires, according to their recently released tax statements). The public opinion data reviewed here suggest a majority of Americans would be receptive to such a possibility.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,021 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 6-9, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
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