Interesting, but not for the reasons you might think. When I saw Gallup’s headline I assumed the data would show a distinct upward trend in the numbers over time, partly because of the seemingly endless economic malaise and partly because the left’s been hammering harder at “income inequality” since the beginning of Obama’s first term. I was expecting a graph along the lines of what you see on gay marriage or pot legalization: Naysayers with an advantage, then a gradual narrowing of the gap and finally a reversal within the last few years.

Nope. Just the opposite:


Not only have the numbers been flat for most of the last 30 years, with redistributionists vastly outnumbering their opponents, but they have less of an advantage since the financial crisis and O’s inauguration. Huh. I don’t know how to explain that. It does make sense with an extra moment’s thought why redistribution might perennially have more support: The bottom 50 percent or so in household income naturally wishes they had a little more to work with, and well-to-do liberals for ideological reasons wish they could give it to them. (Not out of their own pockets, of course, but out of America’s tax coffers.) My assumption was that the privations of a recession would sharpen the resentment of the poor and middle class towards wealthier people so that you’d see a spike since 2009, but they actually seem to be dulling it a bit. Why? Maybe there’s a perception, even among redistributionists, that everyone gets hurt in a slowdown and therefore it’s less fair to ask for more. Conversely, during the prosperity of the 90s and 00s, support for redistribution stays high. Where does that dip circa 2001 come from, though? The mild recession of that decade didn’t start until a year later. Is that some byproduct of 9/11, i.e. “we all need to pull together” and not squabble over resources?

Also curious: If you follow the link up top and scroll down, you’ll see that support for tax hikes on the rich doesn’t track closely with the above graph on redistribution. That number’s at a 15-year high right now even though support for redistribution in the abstract is actually lower than it was in 1998. What explains that? I’m thinking there may be an “Obama effect” where the attention O has devoted specifically to taxing the rich over the last few years has helped push support for that particular form of redistribution upward, but meanwhile the recession and subsequent stagnant Obama “recovery” has kept support for redistribution in principle low-ish by historic standards. And yet, even with the trend in support for tax hikes, the number who support those right now (52 percent) is actually lower than the number that supports redistribution in principle (59 percent). Who are the seven percent who want more redistribution but not necessarily through tax hikes? What do they have in mind?

One last footnote: Compare the numbers for Republicans and independents at the link when they’re asked whether wealth should be redistributed more fairly and whether the government, specifically, should do the redistributing. Indies are split almost evenly on the latter question but are heavily in favor of more redistribution on the former. Republicans are heavily opposed to both ideas. That’s one reason why the Democrats’ attack on the GOP as the “party of the rich” perpetually gets traction with voters, no matter how many wealthy donors contribute to the DNC and no matter how cozy big-name Dems get with Wall Street.