So, if Americans say they want a country that is more equal than they believe it to be, and they believe that the country is more equal than it actually is, the question becomes how we lessen these disparities. Our survey didn’t ask what measures people would be willing to support to address the wealth gap. But to achieve the ideal spelled out by those surveyed, about 50% of the total wealth in the United States would have to be taken from the top 20% and distributed to the remaining 80%.
Few people would argue for an immediate redistribution of 50% of the nation’s wealth, and such a move would unquestionably create chaos. In addition, despite the fact that individual Americans give large amounts to charitable causes each year — in effect, a way of transferring wealth from the rich to the poor — the notion of government redistribution raises hackles among many constituencies.
Despite these reservations, our results suggest that policies that increase inequality — those that favor the wealthy, say, or that place a greater burden on the poor — are unlikely to reflect the desires of Americans from across the political and economic spectrum. Rather, they seem to favor policies that involve taking from the rich and giving to the poor.