Americans disagree on government role in wealth distribution

A new Gallup poll shows deep partisan divides over whether the government should actively work to create a more equal distribution of wealth in society.

About 70 percent of Democrats surveyed believed the government should impose higher taxes on the wealthy in order to spread out wealth, while roughly the same percentage of Republicans oppose that policy. Minorities, women, and lower-income Americans are more likely to favor wealth distribution, consistent with their voting patterns. Independents opposed government action for wealth distribution, but by a relatively slim margin: 53 percent were against such a policy, and 43 percent supported it.

The two sides come a little closer to agreement on whether wealth should be distributed more evenly in America when government intervention is removed from the equation. Fifty-seven percent of respondents favor more even distribution, while 35 percent think the current distribution is fair.

On the other hand, Americans are less likely than they were in 1991 to think that there is an appropriate number of rich people in the country. The percentage who said the number was "just right" has fallen from 55 percent to 42 percent, and the number of people saying there were too many rich people has risen from 21 percent to 31 percent. Around 2007, there was a spike in the percentage of people who thought there were too many wealthy Americans, up to 37 percent.

Those numbers also broke down on partisan lines, with about half of Republicans saying the number of rich people is about right, compared with 35 percent of Democrats. Democrats also said, by a margin of 43 percent to 15 percent, that there were too many wealthy people.

Of course, views on wealth distribution can often be affected by how the question is presented. In a September 2010 Gallup poll, 59 percent of Americans favored ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, though there was still a huge gap between Democratic and Republican support for the idea.

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