Monday, Jul 28, 2014
It is a persistent belief among many in the political and media establishments, fed by decades of right-wing propaganda, that the United States is a “center-right nation” that finds progressives to be far too liberal for mainstream positions of power.
If you look purely at electoral outcomes, those who assert this appear to have a fairly strong point. The last several decades of federal politics have been dominated by center-right policies and truly left-wing politicians have been largely marginalized (e.g., Bernie Sanders). Even Clinton and Obama — the last two Democratic presidents who, theoretically, should be leftists — are corporate-friendly moderates who have triangulated during negotiations with Republicans to pass center-right policy compromises (e.g., Obama’s Heritage Foundation-inspired ACA or the Clinton Defense of Marriage Act compromise).
While electoral results may support the idea of a center-right nation, looking beyond electoral politics — which involve a mixture of policy choices, party politics, fundraising and propaganda — and focusing purely upon raw policy preferences leaves us with an entirely different picture.
Here is a compilation of polling data from various reputable American polling organizations, describing the policy preferences of the Americans people over the last year.
According to Gallup polling, 59 percent of Americans think that U.S. wealth “should be more evenly distributed” among a larger percentage of the people while only 33 percent thought that the current “distribution is fair.” While this is down from the 2008 modern high point, where 68 percent of Americans supported more redistribution, the public opinion of redistribution has held a stable majority, if not super-majority, for decades.
The fact that such a large number of Americans believes that the distribution of wealth is currently too skewed toward the wealthy is made far more relevant by the fact that they don’t actually know just how skewed the wealth distribution has become. As explained by Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School, Americans think that the current distribution of wealth is far more equal (middle bar graph) than it actually is (top bar graph) — in short, they recognize the problem, but lack an understanding as to just how bad it has become.
According to Pew Research, 69 percent of Americans oppose any cuts to Social Security or Medicare, even in order to cut the deficit, while only 23 percent support such cuts. Additionally, 59 percent oppose cuts on programs assisting the poor in order to address the deficit, while only 33 percent support such austerity.
A multitude of polls have indicated that between 60 percent and 80 percent of Americans support increasing taxes on the wealthy, depending upon how the question is worded and the polling venue — this indicates that a majority of Americans support increasing taxes on top-earners in order to reduce the deficit.