Monday, September 12, 2016

Cui bono?

In August 2008, a Gallup/USA Today poll asked "If _____ is elected president, who do you think his policies would benefit the most – the wealthy, the middle class, or the poor, or all about equally?" for John McCain and Barack Obama.  In late June and early July of this year, a survey sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute and Los Angeles times asked the same question about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  The results:

                    McCain    Trump            Obama    Clinton
Wealthy              53%       54%               16%      36%
Middle Class         19%       15%               33%      19%
Poor                  1%        2%               22%      12%
All equally          25%       20%               25%      25%

The distribution of answers is almost the same for Trump as it was for McCain, but the distribution for Clinton is quite a bit different from what it had been for Obama--fewer saying the poor or middle class, and more saying the wealthy.  The 2008 survey also asked about voting intention (the 2016 survey did not).  As you might guess, people who thought a candidate would benefit the middle class or everyone about equally were a lot more likely to support him than those who thought he would benefit the rich.  Things were more complicated with the poor--the few people who thought McCain's policies would benefit the poor were overwhelmingly in favor of him (88%, although it was only eight people); the larger number who thought Obama's policies would benefit the poor were strongly against him (26%).

If you combine the 2008 estimates with the 2012 opinions, perceptions of who benefits from Clinton's policies are costing her about 7 percentage points compared to Obama.  Although I wouldn't take the exact number very seriously, it seems safe to say that she's not getting as much benefit as he was.

Why would Clinton be viewed so much differently than Obama was?  One possibility is that it's a fixed part of her image--maybe people are thinking of the well-compensated speeches she's made to Wall Street firms.  Another possibility is that the contrast with Bernie Sanders made people think of her as more favorable to rich, and that as people start focusing on the contrast with Trump perceptions will change (or maybe already have changed).  The fact that Trump is not seen as much different from McCain is interesting, since claims that he would help the working and middle classes have been a big part of his campaign.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

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