December 18, 2013
This woman represents the Democratic Party of the future. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
This woman represents the Democratic Party of the future. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Do Americans favor government intervention in the economy, and do they recoil at class based appeals?

A new poll sheds some interesting light on these questions, which are at the center of the debate over the degree to which Democrats should emphasize the need to combat inequality as a defining issue of the party and of our time.

Short version: While generic “government” still polls badly, the notion that government should act to combat inequality is popular, even among independents and moderates — and particularly among core Democratic voter groups.

The new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that a sizable majority of Americans, 57 percent, believes that “the federal government should pursue policies that try to reduce the gap between wealthy and less well-off Americans.” Only 37 percent oppose.

Only Republicans and conservatives believe government should not act to reduce inequality, but even among them the numbers are surprising. Independents favor government action by 58-37. and moderates favor it by 62-34. Among Republicans the numbers are 40-54, and among conservatives they are 45-48.

Crucially, core Dem subgroups that make up the “Coalition of the Ascendantoverwhelmingly favor combatting inequality. Liberals: 79-17. People under 40: 66-31. Non-whites: 67-23. Women: 59-35. College educated whites: 51-46. This suggests Dem lawmakers and candidates will probably have to make fighting inequality a top priority.

The poll suggests a populist emphasis could help with downscale whites — who are less important to the Dem coalition but should not be given up upon by Dems — since they favor combatting inequality by 55-41.

There’s a nuance in the polling worth noting, one centered on question wording. Republicans hold a 48-40 advantage over Obama on who has the right balance on “government spending,” and the two parties are tied on who is right about the proper “size and role of the federal government.”

But what this really suggests is that “government” and “spending” poll badly, and when you introduce combatting inequality into the mix, suddenly opinion changes. Indeed, though it’s often said Americans reject “class warfare,” individual government policies to fight inequality — higher taxes on the rich, strengthening the safety net, funding for education, infrastructure spending to create jobs, hiking the minimum wage — are broadly popular. Also, as Paul Krugman and Alec MacGillis argue, treating inequality as a central challenge is the right thing to do.

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* BROAD SUPPORT FOR HIKING MINIMUM WAGE: The new Post/ABC News poll also finds that Americans overwhelmingly favor raising the minimum wage, by 66-31. Among independents: 65-34. Among moderates: 71-27 Even Republicans support it by 50-45, and conservatives by 53-34.

Observers keep pointing out that Dems are emphasizing the minimum wage hike to win over non-college whites, and as it turns out, they favor it by an overwhelming 66-32.

* ANOTHER DEBT CEILING FIGHT COMING? With GOP leaders like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell claiming there won’t be a clean debt limit increase, meaning another possible standoff, this tidbit from Jonathan Weisman’s overview of the budget deal probably tells us where things are really headed:

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has said Congress will have to again raise the debt ceiling in March. That could renew the wars or, possibly, prove a useful deadline to produce the next bipartisan agreement, a more sweeping deal on tax and entitlement program changes.

You can see a situation where Republicans hope some kind of bigger deal is reached and the debt limit hike is thrown in to allow them to claim say won something for it. Obviously Dems should not play along with this, and shouldn’t make any concessions whatsoever in exchange for a hike, since averting economic disaster does not represent a concession on the GOP’s part.

* RAND PAUL PUSHES FOR DEBT LIMIT STANDOFF: Add Senator Paul to those advocating for yet another insane round of brinksmanship:

“Most of the conservatives in our party are opposed to raising the debt ceiling without conditions,” Paul said. “We’re also opposed to raising the spending over the next two years by busting the budget caps. I think it does a disservice to every conservative in the party who believes we need to go in the opposite direction.”

Yeah, okay. So it looks as if GOP leaders will hint at another standoff to mollify conservatives still angry about the budget deal.

* HOUSE GOP PIVOTS BACK TO JOBS: John Boehner’s office releases a new video calling on the President to support House GOP policies to create jobs. It’s hard to see how GOP leaders will allow another debt ceiling standoff if this is supposed to be the new focus.

* YUP: THE GOP REPEAL STANCE IS PROBLEMATIC: The Fix team has a good post saying what must never be said: The GOP repeal stance is problematic and unpopular. Note this:

None of this is to say that Republicans have a better political option — be it proposing an alternative or moving to fix Obamacare. These two options risk making their alternative the issue and legitimizing Obamacare, respectively. But it’s also clear that Republicans haven’t gotten nearly the advantage on this issue that you might think they have.

This conundrum restricts Republicans from showing any flexibility on the issue, since they can’t advocate for any fixes to the law without enraging their base, while Dems — for all the very real problems Obamacare has created — at least have the flexibility of a “keep, fix, and improve” message at their disposal.

* CHART OF THE DAY, OBAMACARE POLLING EDITION: I noted yesterday that WaPo polling shows public opinion on the health law has remained remarkably steady for years, despite rollout problems, and Danny Vinik comes through with a nice chart illustrating this phenomenon perfectly. The rollout did shift opinion against the law, but it now looks to be reverting to where it’s always been.

Also see HuffPollster’s useful overview of all the polling on the health law, which tells the same story, at least to some degree.

* TODAY’S GOP NARRATIVE: EVEN UNINSURED HATE OBAMACARE!!! Republican operatives are very excited about this new CBS News poll finding that even the uninsured are skeptical that the health law will help them:

Just 15 percent of insured Americans think the health care law will help them personally, but that number rises to 33 percent among the uninsured. Still, more uninsured Americans think the health care law will hurt them (37 percent).  Thirty-two percent of insured Americans say it’ll hurt them.

Yes, the law’s long term effectiveness remains uncertain; what matters is whether the law works over time. But “skepticism” does not translate into support for the GOP repeal stance.

* AND PAUL RYAN IS A FREE MAN NOW: The Hill doesn’t think Ryan is running for president:

In interviews The Hill conducted with more than two dozen House Republicans from across the ideological spectrum over the last couple of weeks, many of Ryan’s colleagues said they are doubtful he will run for president in 2016. Most believe that concerns for his young family will lead him to lay claim to the job he’s always wanted: chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Okay, so now that there’s no 2016 GOP presidential primary to worry about — which might help explain Ryan’s willingness to infuriate the right with the budget deal – maybe it’s time for Ryan to show leadership by calling for votes on immigration reform!

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.