Such high levels of pessimism and mistrust should be political gold for Republicans. But the electorate has its own distinct worries about the GOP, and they center on the issue of income inequality. The CBS/NYT survey asked the people a blunt question: “Do you feel that the distribution of money and wealth in this country is fair, or do you feel that the money and wealth in this country should be more evenly divided among more people?” 26 percent of the respondents thought that the current pattern is fair, versus 66 percent who thought the distribution should be more even…

Simply put, people are justifiably worried that income inequality is too high, and they see Republicans as working to exacerbate it. For example, when asked whom they think the policies of Congressional Republicans most favor, 69 percent say the rich. Only 9 percent say the middle class, and only 2 percent say the poor. Only 15 percent believe that Republican policies treat all groups equally. Here are the comparable figures for the Obama administration: 28 percent say its policies favor the rich, 23 percent say the middle class, 17 percent say the poor, and 21 percent say Obama’s policies treat everyone equally. The American people know what Republicans stand for, and they don’t much like it. By contrast, they can’t figure out what Obama stands for—and they don’t much like that either.

In sum, while Americans sense that generating jobs and economic growth is an urgent task right now, they’re also concerned about the long-cycle trend toward increasing inequality and whether it’s compatible with either economic or civic health. But they still have no idea to whom they should turn to address those concerns. Unless the way the free market works changes dramatically, they know they can’t expect the “invisible hand” to reduce inequality. If the people want more equality, which they say they do, they can only get it through public policy. The catch is they don’t think they can trust the government to get the job done. They feel, in other words, that they’re stuck with a status quo they dislike.