Economic Inequality Is All the Rage

by Larry Bartels on January 18, 2012 · 2 comments

in Policy,Political Economy,Public opinion

Bill Moyers returned to television last weekend with a new series, Moyers & Company. (Check your local listings.) The first few installments focus on the politics of economic inequality, drawing heavily on a multi-hour interview with political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson about their much-praised 2010 book, Winner-Take-All Politics. Someone must be watching, since Winner-Take-All Politics was in single digits on the Amazon best-seller list earlier this week, and is currently #22. (That’s not #22 in some sub-sub-category, or 22 with three or four zeros after it, but #22 in Books.)

As part of the festivities—and being much less telegenic than Hacker and Pierson—I was invited to write a piece for the Moyers website assessing the political impact of the Occupy Wall Street movement. What I found, using YouGov survey data from mid-December, was not much:

There is remarkably little evidence here that the public as a whole has moved to the left on the most significant policy question currently bearing on the issue of economic inequality—or even that the public has become increasingly engaged in that debate over the past year. . . . So far, at least, neither the president nor the Occupy Wall Street movement has succeeded in transforming general public support for the principle of progressive taxation into effective support where it counts—at the polls—for the specific policies that are most likely to matter.

It is a testament to the open-mindedness of Moyers and his colleagues that they’ve posted this downer in the midst of their own enthusiastic celebrations of political progress on the issue of inequality: “America Wakes Up to the Reality: Inequality Matters”“Capitalism Debate Hits the Mainstream”; “Financial Crisis Tests Tolerance of Inequality”.

And who knows? Perhaps their efforts will contribute to making my analysis obsolete.

 

{ 2 comments }

Mike Sances January 19, 2012 at 8:25 pm

It seems like there is not much overtime data on these types of survey questions, which is why this post is refreshing.

Here is another such question from Pew. The question here is not about a specific policy, but whether respondents see conflicts between rich and poor. They find a 19 point jump between 2009 and 2011.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/study-americans-believe-conflict-between-rich-poor-is-growing/2012/01/11/gIQAZHibrP_story.html?wprss=rss_politics

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/01/11/rising-share-of-americans-see-conflict-between-rich-and-poor/

Dixon January 20, 2012 at 6:16 am

I definitely agree with Dr. Bartels that the Occupy movement has done a pretty poor job of moving the policy space leftward in the expressed preferences of policy solutions to economic equality. However, on a related note, it seems like they HAVE done a very effective job of increasing the political salience of the economic divide. Jonathon Robinson from The American Prospect takes a brief look at it here – http://prospect.org/article/graphiti-income-inequality-edition

Would you agree that Occupy seems to have had a causal impact on the salience of the issue? Or is this a function of the Republican primary? Both? Neither?

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