Survey: Does our economic system favor the rich?

Why-rich-aConventional wisdom holds that Republicans are the party of the wealthy. But as Donald Trump’s campaign has clearly revealed, there are plenty of Republicans out there who are not particularly wealthy.

In a recent Occasional Planet poll*, we asked, “In your opinion, what do you think is the primary reason that some people in America are richer than others?” The answer choices were:

  1. The rich deserve to be richer
  2. The rich are smarter
  3. The rich work harder
  4. Our economic system favors the rich
  5. The luck of the draw

As you can see from the chart of all respondents, hardly anyone said that the “the rich deserve to be richer,” and only a few more said “the rich are smarter.” Most said, “Our economic system favors the rich.”

ALL-Some richerConventional wisdom would say that more Democrats than Republicans believe that the economic system favors the rich  The survey appears to validate that notion.

By-Party-Some richer

You can see that 80% of Democrats polled believe that our economic system favors the rich, compared to only 27% of Republicans. Independents fall in the middle at 58%.

Conventional wisdom would further say that lower income people would be more likely to say that our system favors the rich. Again, the survey seems to support that idea, but not as dramatically.

By-Income-Some richer

The blue bar represents respondents from households earning less than $50,000 per year. The gray bar shows those from households with incomes of over $150,000. Seventy percent of the lower-income group believe that our economic system favors the wealthy. Only 46% of those with household incomes over $150,000 believe that.

There might be an anomaly here, with 46% of the wealthy believing the supposition, and with only 27% of Republicans accepting that perspective. Is this a relatively small fissure between Republicans in general and the wealthy, or is it a great divide?

We drilled down further and here’s what we found.

By-Party-and Income-Some richer-simple-aFigure 4 represents the views of Republicans, Democrats and Independents, separated by household income level.

Inside the blue bars in the middle, we can see there is virtually no difference among Democrats of different income levels in accepting the premise that “our economic system favors the rich.

Inside the red bars on the left, we see a monumental difference between wealthy and low-income Republicans. Only 6% of wealthy Republicans accept the premise that “our economic system favors the rich.” But for those Republicans who are members of low income households, fully 52% believe that “our economic system favors the rich.” This is nearly a nine-fold difference.

What does all of this mean?

  1. On the question of whether our economic system favors the wealthy, there seems to be unanimity among Democrats, regardless of their household incomes.
  2. On the same question, there is a deep division among Republicans from high-income and low-income families.
  • Do these results mean that there are two large groups of Republicans:  one consisting of the wealthy who want to protect most private wealth in the United States; and a second group of lower-income Republicans who live somewhat of a hard-scrabble life and, perhaps, are among Donald Trump’s “angry supporters?”
  • While this contention seems to make sense, it will require far more study. A larger sample size might yield more reliable results.

We will conduct at least one further study examining these questions,  and on the ultimate question we are asking:   “Why are the Democratic and Republican brains so different from one another,” and what can we do to try to have a more fair and just America and world.

*Occasional Planet interviewed 550 Americans on January 14-15, 2016, using the services of the online-site Survey Monkey. The sample size is reliable +/- 4.5%, 95% of the time. It is demographically balanced by gender, ethnicity, age, income and geographic region.