Americans Want To Tax Billionaires But Not Get Rid Of Them

Addressing economic inequality has become a focal point of the 2020 Democratic presidential contest. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is proposing an annual wealth tax on households with a net worth over $50 million, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is backing an increase to the federal estate tax.

Some progressive Democrats have gone further, questioning whether billionaires should even exist ― among them, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) who posited that every billionaire is a “policy failure.”

Most Americans are on board with the belief that the government should work to reduce the wealth gap, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll found, although fewer consider the existence of billionaires a policy failure.

Just over half those surveyed, 52 percent, said the government does too much for wealthy people, with a quarter saying it does about the right amount and just 8 percent that it does too little. A similar majority, 54 percent, said the government should pursue policies to reduce the gap between the wealthy and the less well-off, with 26 percent opposed and the rest unsure.

The issue of income inequality has taken on new relevance, thanks to the continued unpopularity of President Donald Trump’s tax law, which has polled slightly underwater in most recent surveys.

“It used to be that making taxes more progressive was considered the crazy left wing,” Morris Pearl, the chair of Patriotic Millionaires, which supports taxing the wealthy, told PBS NewsHour. “Now that we have some very progressive plans in the left wing, restoring things to where they were two years ago [before the Republican tax cuts] seems a middle of the road plan.”

Americans, the survey found, take a generally dim view of the uber-wealthy ― just 22 percent said they have more admiration than distrust for billionaires, while 43 percent had more distrust than admiration (Bloomberg, which asked the question in 2017, also found distrust winning out). In the HuffPost/YouGov poll, 45 percent said that the government should work to reduce the share of wealth held by billionaires in the country — versus 33 percent who said it should not. But there’s less support for attempting to stamp out the nation’s billionaires altogether. Just 20 percent said they support the idea that billionaires represent a failure of policy, and 45 percent were opposed.

Views on every question diverged starkly along political lines. More than 80 percent of voters who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 said the government does too much for the wealthy and should try to reduce the gap between the wealthy and the less well-off, with nearly as many saying the government should work to reduce the wealth held by billionaires. They were close to evenly split on the idea that billionaires represent policy failures.

Only 24 percent of Trump voters said the government does too much for the wealthy, and 24 percent said it should work to combat wealth inequality. Just 19 percent said the government should try to reduce the share of wealth held by billionaires, and only a tenth said billionaires represent an inherent problem with the political system.

The rest of the country, including voters who supported a third-party candidate in the last presidential election and those who stayed home, were generally supportive of efforts to reduce wealth inequality, though by smaller margins than Clinton voters.

By comparison, there’s little divide along income lines. Americans in households making under $50,000 annually, more than $100,000 annually or somewhere in between were about equally likely ― from 51 to 54 percent ― to say the government does too much to help the wealthy. Across those income groups, those who said the government should work to reduce wealth inequality ranged from 52 to 57 percent; those who said they want to see fewer billionaires was in a similarly narrow band of 44 to 48 percent.

Two questions show a little more differentiation. Those in the lowest income bracket were the least likely to admire billionaires: Just 15 percent said they do, compared with 31 percent of people in higher-earning households. But those in the highest bracket were the most likely to support the idea that billionaires represent policy failures: 34 percent said so, compared with 18 percent of lower earners. Those with lower incomes weren’t more opposed to the idea but were substantially more likely to say they were unsure.

As historical polling shows, Americans have long favored taxing the wealthy. Gallup polls conducted from 2013 to 2016 suggest a majority also approve of taxing the rich specifically for the purpose of redistributing wealth — a shift from earlier decades. More recently, a number of polled have shown broad support for Warren’s proposed wealth tax. But how the ideas are framed matters. the concept of socialism, for instance, continues to poll badly.

And redistribution isn’t necessarily at the top of the public’s to-do list. In a Gallup poll last December, 62 percent of Americans said it was important for Congress to act on “the distribution of income and wealth,” ranking it last among a list of a dozen policy areas. Education, health care and the economy placed highest.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Feb. 25 to 26 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some but not all potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error. 

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