If only it were this simple for Democrats. Step 1: Call for higher taxes on the rich. Step 2: Win elections. Rinse and repeat.
Indeed, a simple reading of the polls suggests it really should be this simple. President Obama’s Buffett Rule tax certainly scores well in public opinion surveys. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 64% of Americans support the idea, including 59% of self-described independents. Yet a new AEI study of public opinion concludes that it “does not appear that taxing the rich or tax reform will be key issues for voters this fall. Occupy Wall Street has done little to change attitudes toward taxing the rich, with long-standing support toward taxing them more remaining strong.”
Over the past three or four decades — a period supposedly marked by stagnant middle-class incomes and sharply rising income inequality — Americans have become less interested in raising taxes on the rich. In questions asked by the Roper Organization between 1972 and 1992, between 72 and 80% said “high-income families” pay too little in taxes, the AEI study notes. In 1992, Gallup started asking whether “upper-income people” pay too little, too much, or the right amount in federal taxes, and 77 percent said they paid too little. That response has moved downward unevenly. In 2011, 59% said they paid too little vs. 66% in 2007, just before the Great Recession.
In other words, Americans always think the rich pay too little in taxes. If there’s anything new here, it’s that the view seems to be held less strongly today than in the past.
Now here is a second Gallup poll that really gets at the heart of the Obama agenda:
Again, Americans always think that wealth should be more evenly distributed. But that feeling is less strong today than in the past, despite the financial crisis. Finally, should government redistribute wealth?
So the idea of raising taxes on the rich seems to be more popular than important to Americans. Our aspirational streak is still wider than our populist one. We realize heavy taxes may create a “fairer” system by some measure but not a more prosperous one. The Economic Prosperity Party tends to beat the Economic Security Party. It didn’t work that way in 2008, of course. But that was time of economic panic not seen in the United States since the Great Depression. Also note that Obama’s major attempt at a new economic security program, Obamacare, remains more unpopular than popular:
The next president? Whoever can persuade Americans that the next four years will be more prosperous that the past four.