Political Issue: Wealth Gap

Nearly Two-Third See Income Gap Growing, Parties Divided on Root Cause

Sixty-four percent (64%) of young Americans under 30, and a solid majority of Democrats and Republicans believe that the gap between “the rich and everyone else in America” is greater today than when they were born. A majority (52%) of young Americans consider this gap to be a major problem, while an additional 20 percent consider the issue to be a minor problem.Thirteen percent (13%) do not believe this to be a problem, and another 14 percent are unsure.This issue, which can prove to be highly divisive stands slightly behind the issue of student debt in the minds of 18- to 29- year old Millennials. In our Fall 2013 release, it was reported that 57 percent believed student debt to be a major problem, 22 percent a minor problem and only four percent not a problem.Overall, 72 percent believe the income gap to be a problem in America, 79 percent say the same about student debt. While these two issues seem to be of serious concern to a majority of this important electoral cohort, student debt is an issue that unites members of the two parties, while debate about the income gap can quickly divide.


Another example of what appears to be a fundamental difference between the two parties is the way each thinks about the potential root causes of income disparity. For example:

  • Forty-four percent (44%) of Democrats believe that the gap in income is more the “result of factors outside one’s control,” compared to 29 percent of Republicans who believe the same;
  • While 47 percent of Republicans believe that the gap is more the “result of certain people working hard and making smart choices,” compared to 29 percent of Democrats.

In addition to these differences by political party, the root causes of income disparity also result in cleavages by gender and age. Young men (37%) are significantly more likely than young women (28%) to believe that the gap is more the result of certain people working hard and making smart choices; 18- to 24- year olds (35%) are more likely than 25- to 29- year olds (29%) to believe the same. While a plurality (44%) of Democrats seem willing to pin most of the political responsibility for this on the Republican party, only 16 percent of Republicans blame Democrats. Republicans (44%) are far more likely to shoulder some responsibility and “blame both parties equally.”

Young Americans Seeking Better Solutions from Both Parties to Solve the Wealth Gap

Asked to assess how effective six different policy solutions proposed by national Democrats or Republicans would be at reducing the wealth gap, young Americans expressed tepid belief in all six. None of the six options were rated as likely to be effective by more than 50 percent of respondents. Of the six options offered, raising the federal minimum  wage to $10.10 was rated as likely to be effective by the largest portion of young Americans (19% very effective, 27% somewhat effective) and making it easier to form and join unions was least likely to be rated as likely to succeed (10% very effective, 21% somewhat effective). Other responses included:

  • Reducing workplace discrimination  based on gender and race, 18 percent very effective, 28 percent somewhat effective;
  • Increasing access to high-quality pre-school, 14 percent very effective, 26 percent somewhat effective;
  • Strengthening families and increasing the percentage of low-income parents who get married, 17 percent very effective, 13 percent somewhat effective;
  • Allowing parents more choice in where to send their children through school vouchers and more access to charter schools, 16 percent very effective, 14 percent somewhat effective.

Republicans favored increasing school choice through vouchers and charter schools the most (51% effective), while Democrats favored raising the minimum  wage to $10.10 the most (63%). Republicans are more likely than Democrats to believe government would be ineffective in trying to close the wealth inequality gap. Additionally, a greater percentage of Republicans than Democrats rated potential policy solutions as ineffective in all six cases, with the difference being statistically significant in four out of six cases.

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