Attitudes on Income Redistribution and Government Action

There is a segment of the right which keeps trying to fight socialism despite its demise and the triumph of the free market. They imagine the Democrats as Marxists while applauding the Republicans as heroic defenders of the free market, often blind to their support for corporate welfare and other big government programs. While there are some who hang on to old leftist economic ideas, current partisan divides are far greater over matters such as social issues and the war. Gallup has released a poll on attitudes on redistributing wealth. If those on the right who claim Democrats are a pack of socialists were right, we’d expect to see a tremendous difference between the parties on this issue.

The poll shows that Americans are fairly united in opposing income redistribution. The poll finds that, “Americans overwhelmingly — by 84% to 13% — prefer that the government focus on improving overall economic conditions and the jobs situation in the United States as opposed to taking steps to distribute wealth more evenly among Americans.” This is one reason why John Edwards did not do well in the Democratic primaries, and turning to populism did not bring Hillary Clinton victory.

The results of the poll were fairly constant regardless of either party affiliation or income:

Americans’ lack of support for redistributing wealth to fix the economy spans political parties: Republicans (by 90% to 9%) prefer that the government focus on improving the economy, as do independents (by 85% to 13%) and Democrats (by 77% to 19%). This sentiment also extends across income groups: upper-income Americans prefer that the government focus on improving the economy and jobs by 88% to 10%, concurring with middle-income (83% to 16%) and lower-income (78% to 17%) Americans.

Where there is a difference is over the question of whether the government should be doing more or less:

A separate question finds Americans more likely to believe government is doing too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses (50%) as opposed to saying government should do more to solve the country’s problems (43%). This broad question is not directed specifically at the economy, but reinforces the general idea that many Americans are leery of too much direct government intervention in fixing the country’s problems.

This philosophical issue appears to divide Americans by both political party and income groups. Republicans think the government is currently doing too much, by 72% to 24%; independents are split, with 47% saying the government is doing too much and 44% saying it is not doing enough; and Democrats say the government needs to do more by 58% to 36%.

Not surprisingly Democrats are more likely to see a need for government action than Republicans, but there is far from complete agreement. I believe members of each party see government action differently. Many Republicans see government action in a more black or white manner, with it always being bad and generally a form of creeping socialism. Many independents and Democrats are more likely to be pragmatic and see a need for government action in specific situations where individuals and businesses have not been able to solve problems. This does not mean most Democrats support near unlimited government control and income redistribution as many Republicans believe.


  1. 1
    b-psycho says:

    Of course the unspoken part is what either side is thinking with regard to “action” on the subject.  Republicans are a lot more pro-government than people think, it’s just not noticed much because of who they’re directing that power for.
    OT: I was curious your thoughts on the D.C. gun ban ruling, if you have a view on it.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:


    There is definitely a difference between rhetoric and actual policy with regards to Republicans and big government. Any group which supports using the government for nation building in the middle east, which supports the Patriot Act, and which supports using the government to prevent individual women from having an abortion is really a proponent of big government.

    The D.C. gun ruling was an example of an activist court going beyond the letter of the Constitution to increase individual liberties. In this respect it is analogous to the Court’s ruling on abortion but is an even stronger case of judicial activism as it ignores several words of the Second Amendment which might contradict their findings. Supporters of a strict interpretation of the Constitution should be outraged by this ruling, but they will not be as it gives them the decision they prefer.

    I am happy to see them back an individual right to own guns which exceeds what is actually in the Constitution, and also welcome this as an example whenever conservatives complain of an activist court supporting liberal causes.

    It is awfully hard to consistently claim that the Second Amendment really prohibits the D.C. gun ban while denying  the First Amendment’s limitations on government involvement in religious matters, especially considering the evidence of the intent of the First Amendment in the writings of the framers of the Constitution. This does not mean that many on the right won’t continue to hold a totally contradictory view of the Constitution while claiming to be strictly adhering to its word.

  3. 3
    b-psycho says:

    Heh…you mean the “well-regulated militia” part?
    Even if the intention were solely for arming a militia, the definition of a militia the government itself holds to would contradict such a restriction anyway.
    I get the feeling that if the popular image of a gunowner weren’t some white racist hillbilly type then liberals wouldn’t see such a problem with gun ownership.  It’s self-fulfilling prophecy IMO.  Besides, it’s not like it’s right-wingers the gov’t keeps wanting to shut up…

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    I think that the primary reason for the Second Amendment was to limit the federal government with regards to the states, coming from an era when the states were much more autonomous and there were fears about centralized authority. If the federal government restricted ownership of guns, then the states could not form their own militias as their citizens would not have guns. If they really intended an unrestricted right for individuals to own guns, then there would be no point in starting out with the well-regulated militia part.

    The Bill of Rights only applied to the federal government initially, which would not have prevented the states from restricting gun ownership (as well as not preventing them from violating other rights). A law in Washington, D.C. would be more ambiguous. It wasn’t until the 14th Amendment that the rights began to be applied as also restricting the states. Considering how the Second Amendment was written with regards to “being necessary to the security of a free State,” it is far more questionable whether this amendment gives individuals any rights with regards to state governments. I’m sure lawyers could come up with arguments either way, but in this case I think it ultimately came down to “activist judges” going with their personal political views as opposed to what the Constitution says.

    I see the Constitution as more a tool to limit the government. It is useful to cite the Constitution when government tries to exceed its bounds. I have no problem if the Constitution is interpreted loosely to allow for more individual rights. However you can’t have it both ways–claiming to be a strict constructionist only when convenient. While I am glad that they do support this individual right, I do not believe it is actually a right present in the Constitution if interpreted strictly.

  5. 5
    John Freeland says:

    The term “income redistribution” has about as much charm as “abortion on demand.”

    “Give me an abortion and give it to me now, damnit,” demanded the promiscuous, drug-addicted, alcoholic slut.

    Income redistribution sounds like communism and, of course, most people won’t like it. As with any polling, a lot has to do with how the question is asked.

    Policy decisions and market perturbations both have distributive effects. The years invading and occupying Iraq have corresponded to a five-fold increase in oil prices, in part due to a “fear factor” in commodity trading. The war also requires a lot of oil to keep it rolling. The oil companies have benefited. Investers in oil companies have benefited. Most people are now paying a larger percentage of their incomes for fuel. This is income redistribution, though most people may not recognize it as such. 

    Medicare, medicade, and Social Security are programs requiring income redistribution – and they are popular. The Farm Program is income redistribution. We don’t like it so much but we like it better than wild fluctuations in food prices.

    Allowing the Bush Tax cuts to expire will redistribute income. Extending them will continue a redistribution that took place in 2001 and 2003. The list goes on and on.

    The Gallup poll you refer to and so many news organizations picked up is practically meaningless, in my view.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    It is not meaningless, but there is a limit to its meaning. The poll does demonstrate that people are against the idea of income redistribution. You point out many areas where people may not have thought it through or hold contradictory ideas, but that doesn’t change the attitudes expressed in the poll.

  7. 7
    b-psycho says:

    Medicare & SS, to me, stay popular primarily because of who they’re interpreted as being for.  Americans seem to like middle-class entitlements and outright HATE poverty programs reflexively: note how whenever a survey is done asking people how they think the federal budget is laid out, they always think a huge chunk is welfare (and foreign aid), when in reality #1 and 2 are defense military spending and middle-class entitlements.
    As for Medicaid: most don’t come across it, so that’s more than likely an “eh, whatever” type thing.

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