From our Obsession
Global Economic Disruptions
Globalization, automation, and inequality—oh my!
A wealth tax is a hot topic among liberal voters. But a new poll conducted by Reuters and Ipsos published today shows that Republicans, too, don’t mind the idea.
That the rich should pay an extra tax on their accumulated wealth seems to be at odds with one of the tenets of American capitalism, one that conservatives generally support: That people should keep the money they make.
Yet the new poll found that 53% of Republicans, and 77% of Democrats, agreed that “the very rich should contribute an extra share of their total wealth each year to support public programs.” That means about 65% of the total number of people interviewed in the survey essentially agreed that a wealth tax is a good idea.
It’s worth noting, however, that the survey’s questions never used the term “wealth tax.” Survey results often turn on how the questions are asked. Even minor changes to the words used can make a difference. For instance, a survey on health care might show different results if the term “single-payer healthcare” is used instead of the more politically-divisive term “Medicare for All.”
These discrepancies exist because people sometimes have negative dispositions toward specific branding associated with certain policies while actually agreeing with the essence of those policies. The name of a policy proposal is more likely to be associated with negative advertising than an explanation of the proposal itself.
The wealth tax has featured prominently in the campaign for a Democratic nominee to face US president Donald Trump in November. Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders owe much of their popularity among progressive voters to their support for a wealth tax. Republicans, on the other hand, have used that same support to deride the two frontrunners.
Warren has proposed a 2% tax on wealth above $50 million (that is, the first $50 million wouldn’t be subject to additional tax), and a 3% tax on wealth over $1 billion. Sanders has proposed a more significant tax, which starts with a 1% tax on wealth above $32 million for couples and rises gradually to an 8% tax on wealth above $10 billion (the threshold is halved for single people).
Republicans have not advanced proposals for a wealth tax, and have largely seized on it to criticize Democratic candidates as socialists, a label not all of them object to. Still, the Reuters poll shows that people agree with the essence of the tax, if not its common name, and don’t find it at odds with their Republican allegiance and beliefs.
The concept of wealth redistribution overall seems to have traction in the country. When asked if the rich should be allowed to keep all of their money even if that increased inequality, a majority of respondents (54%) disagreed, including 35% of Republicans (and 71% Democrats), while 56% Republicans thought they should keep their wealth.