The Post just released a new finding from its new poll that goes directly to the heart of the big argument over capitalism and economic unfairness that will decide Campaign 2012. It finds that a sizable majority sees the current economic system as inherently unfair in a way that favors the wealthy, and sees this as a more serious problem facing America than government regulation of the free market:
What do you think is the bigger problem in this country — unfairness in the economic system that favors the wealthy, or over-regulation of the free market that interferes with growth and prosperity?
Economic unfairness : 55
Market overregulation: 35
Among the 55 percent who see economic unfairness that favors the wealthy as the main problem say Obama is better equipped than a GOP candidate for president to deal with it, 35-15. Not surprisingly, those who see market regulation as the problem overwhelmingly see the GOP candidate as the best equipped to deal with it
The Post polling team gave me a partisan breakdown. Moderates see economic unfairness on behalf of the wealthy as a bigger problem than market overregulation by 59-29. And those who see unfairness as the problem break two to one in support for Obama over the GOPer as the one better positioned to handle it. Independents see economic unfairness as a bigger problem by 52-38 (though they split evenly between Obama and the Republican).
This is obviously only one finding. But it’s an important one. It’s the first time I’ve seen a poll offer a direct choice between the idea that our economic system is inherently flawed in ways that unfairly help the rich, and the idea that government is to blame for preventing the magic of the free market from showering its wealth upon us all. And a solid majority picks the former.
This seems like a pretty good depiction of the turf upon which the general election will unfold. The Obama/Dem argument is rooted in the belief that there has been a fundamental shift in how the public sees the economy. They believe voters have concluded that the American dream is broken, that the economy is in a very basic way rigged against working class and middle incomd Americans in favor of the rich, and that they will ultimately support an important role for government in leveling the playing field and shoring up the shrinking middle class.
The Romney argument is that inequality does not represent an indictment of the free market system. He claims that inequality, to the degree it needs to be discussed at all, is better solved by unshackling the free market’s power, utimately leading to greater social mobility and shared prosperity. Indeed, Romney continually derides Obama’s aggressive defense of government’s role in combatting inequality as a push for “equal outcomes,” as something akin to attacking the very foundations of American life and greatness.
I don’t know how decisive this will be next November, but when voters are presented with a fair approximation of the underpinnings of both sides’s arguments about what ails us, a solid majority picks Obama’s.