Polls Apart

AMERICANS ARE WAKING UP TO ECONOMIC DISPARITY

I haven’t watched much of the Republican presidential debates because the little I have seen has been so disheartening. Ron Paul is almost refreshing in his wacky nineteenth-century consistency, especially when compared to the pandering of Mitt Romney, wriggling frantically away from his decent record on the environment and health care in Massachusetts.

 The perpetually angry thought police on Fox News and among the Congressional Tea Party caucus are dictating the terms of the debates. The thumping scored by the right wing in the midterm elections made it look as if they speak for the majority of the country. At the same time, it is obvious that underneath the constitutional posturing, they are really just lackeys for the wealthy. Any of the multiple flat-tax proposals floating around would be the bonanza of the century for the rapacious plutocrats in the economic catbird seat.

So it was a very pleasant surprise to see the results of a national CBS News/New York Times poll conducted in the third week of October, for it suggests that the American public is no longer buying it. Sixty-nine percent of all respondents believe that Republicans in Congress favor the rich. Even Republicans are evenly split (38 to 38 percent) on whether their party favors the rich or “treats all groups equally.” The happiest revelation was that on almost all questions, the outcomes parallel the views of Independents, since Democrats and Republicans mostly cancel one another out. Of the respondents identifying themselves as Independents, for instance, 67 percent saw the Republicans as the rich person’s party.

The same pattern applies to the question of raising taxes on millionaires. Republicans are strongly opposed and Democrats strongly favor it, but 68 percent of Independents support it, for an overall outcome of 65 percent.

Those are important findings. It’s likely that this election will turn on economic issues. Despite all the smokescreens from the Right, the public is gradually coming to understand that there has been an immense siphoning of wealth and income away from ordinary people, and that this misallocation played a major role in generating the current “Lesser Depression,” to use Paul Krugman’s apt coinage.

If there were any doubt on that score, the Congressional Budget Office has  released a definitive survey of recent shifts in income allocation among American households (see graph avove). Note that even the wealthy people in the income brackets just below the top 1 percent made relatively modest income gains, because the top dogs grabbed so much for themselves. And a recent study by the International Monetary Fund suggests that the trillions in loose cash in the hands of the superrich has been highly destabilizing. The anxiety of the banks to corral clients among the rolling-in-cash rich led them to churn out the blizzard of exotic new products that ultimately destroyed almost everything.

The rest of the CBS/Times survey is more evidence of dawning public awareness. A plurality (43 percent) sympathize with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Two-thirds think that wealth is unfairly distributed. Fifty-two percent of respondents do not believe that the administration has a clear strategy for increasing jobs, but 67 percent say that the Congressional Republicans don’t. Even Republicans don’t think their party has a credible plan for creating jobs (48 percent skeptical vs. 43 percent not). A huge majority of respondents (80 percent) are in favor of heavy infrastructure spending to create jobs, two-thirds are against lowering the corporate tax rate, and a majority (53 percent) are in favor of federal support to states to avoid layoffs of fire fighters, police officers, and teachers—all Democratic positions.

This is one poll, just a straw passing by in a Stygian breeze. But the Republican rhetoric displayed in the debates, with no exaggeration, has been consistently ignorant, zany, and mean-spirited. People may be noticing. So a Republican waltz to the White House and control of Congress may be a lot tougher than once thought.

Published in the 2011-11-18 issue: 

Charles R. Morris’s most recent book is The Rabble of Dead Money, a history of the Great Depression (PublicAffairs).

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