Pew Research has just released the most detailed polling I’ve seen yet on Occupy Wall Street, economic fairness, rising inequality, and the lack of Wall Street accountability. If these numbers don’t put an end to the nonsense about how Dems risk alienating the “middle of the country” by embracing a populist “class warfare” message, nothing will:
Roughly three-quarters of the public (77%) say that they think there is too much power in the hands of a few rich people and large corporations in the United States. In a 1941 Gallup poll, six-in-ten (60%) Americans expressed this view. About nine-in-ten (91%) Democrats and eight-in-ten (80%) of independents assert that power is too concentrated among the rich and large corporations, but this view is shared by a much narrower majority (53%) of Republicans.
Reflecting a parallel sentiment, 61% of Americans now say the economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy and just 36% say the system is generally fair to most Americans. About three-quarters (76%) of Democrats and 61% of independents say the economic system is tilted in favor of the wealthy; a majority (58%) of Republicans say that the system is generally fair to most Americans.
The public also views Wall Street negatively, little changed from opinions in March. Currently, just 36% say Wall Street helps the American economy more than it hurts — 51% say it hurts more than helps. Majorities of both Democrats (60%) and independents (54%) say Wall Street hurts more than helps, while nearly half of Republicans say Wall Street helps the economy (49%)...
On the whole, Americans continue to say hard work leads to success; 58% agree with the statement that “most people who want to get ahead can make it if they are willing to work hard,” but this is substantially lower than the proportion expressing this view in previous surveys. Today, 40% agree that “Hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people,” which is up six points since March.
A majority of Republicans say that power is too concentrated among the rich and large corporations! The GOP has been taken over by socialists, apparently.
One other point: A lot of commentary out there has it that Dems are misreading the public’s concern about inequality. This view holds that Americans are not concerned about the runaway success of the one percent; rather, the public is worried about inequality only in the sense that they are anxious about the precarious state of the middle class. But these numbers do suggest that the middle of the country is concerned about the undue influence of Wall Street and the wealthy, and a slim majority has come to see Wall Street as a destructive economic force, rather than a constructive one.
What’s more, the Dem message, as I understand it, is focused heavily on inequality as caused by the precarious state of the middle class. As Chuck Schumer told me recently, the Dem focus on inequality is rooted in the idea that there’s been a fundamental shift in how Americans view the economy; they no longer think that playing by the rules is enough; they believe the middle class’ security has been undermined in a very fundamental way. Obama’s recent speech also traded heavily on those themes. That’s why the above numbers are key: Solid majorities, including of independents, think the system is stacked in favor of the wealthy, and barely more than a third think it’s fair to everyone; and there’s been a sharp decline in those who think hard work is a sure route to success.
I have no idea if these public sentiments will translate into electoral success for Dems; the state of the economy in November 2012 may trump all. But these numbers strongly suggest Dems should not be afraid to speak as forcefully as they can to these sentiments.