Tuesday, April 28, 2015

None dare call it redistribution

A letter to the New York Times on Sunday protested against the language in the article in public opinion towards redistribution mentioned in my last post.  I no longer have my copy of the Sunday paper, and can't find the letter online [it finally appeared--May 19], but the author said that the issue wasn't about "soaking the rich" or "redistribution," but about fairness, and that surveys showed most people didn't think that they rich paid their fair share of taxes.

This reminded me of a story in 2013 about how the White House was avoiding the word "redistribution."  From the story:  "'Redistribution is a loaded word that conjures up all sorts of unfairness in people’s minds,' said William M. Daley, who was Mr. Obama’s chief of staff at the time. Republicans wield it 'as a hammer' against Democrats, he said, adding, 'It’s a word that, in the political world, you just don’t use.'"

Here is the distribution of responses to the ISSP question about taxes:

"Generally, how would you describe taxes in the United States today for people with high incomes?"
Much too high           Too High              About right          Too low         Much too low
  7%                               17%                     28%                    36%                12%

The median answer is "about right," but more people think they are too low than too high.

The Gallup Poll has asked "People feel differently about how far a government should go. Here is a phrase which some people believe in and some don't. Do you think our government should or should not redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich?"  The last time it was asked (April 2013) responses were like this:

Should not            Should
45%                       52%

Close, but most people were on the "redistribute" side.

The ISSP also asked people to respond to the statement "It is the responsibility of the government to reduce the differences in income between people with high incomes and people with low incomes."

Strongly disagree    Disagree           Neither           Agree      Strongly Agree
20%                           31%                  16%                 25%               8%

A majority (51%) disagree, and only 33% agree.

Finally, the General Social Survey "Some people think that the government in Washington ought
to reduce the income differences between the rich and the poor, perhaps by raising the taxes of wealthy families or by giving income assistance to the poor. Others think that the government
should not concern itself with reducing this income difference between the rich and the poor. "

should not    2           3              4                  5                6            ought to
15%              7%      14%         16%             15%           9%         22%

If you treat 4 as equivalent to "neither agree nor disagree" 46% are basically in favor of the government reducing income differences, 36% basically opposed.

Taking the questions together, it seems that you can conclude the following:
1.  Americans don't react negatively to the term "redistribution."
2.  What Americans do react negatively to is "responsibility of the government."  Of course, I don't know what people who disagreed had in mind, but I'd guess it's something like this--"it's the responsibility of people with low incomes to work hard and improve their own situation."
3.  People are pretty evenly divided--more are in favor of the government acting to reduce the gap than opposed, but it's not a big difference.

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