This post has been updated.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has built a sizable political profile — including the requisite presidential speculation — by espousing a simple idea: that the system is "rigged" against average Americans.
And you might be surprised who agrees with her: A whole bunch of conservatives.
According to a new Pew survey, 62 percent of Americans think that the economic system unfairly favors the powerful, and 78 percent think that too much power is concentrated in too few companies. The discontent isn't limited to those who share Warren's liberal ideology; 69 percent of young conservative-leaning voters and 48 percent of the most conservative voters agree that the system favors the powerful, according to Pew.
Although Warren seems an outlier in the legislative branch for her fiery discontent with inequality — and the role she says Wall Street plays in exacerbating it — the Pew survey suggests that the vast majority of Americans are at least open to her underlying premise.
Everyone, that is, except business conservatives. This faction has vastly different views of the American economic system than most Americans. Two-thirds of business conservatives think the economic system is fair to most people, and 57 percent think that large companies do not have too much power.
The demographics that bind business conservatives go a long way toward explaining why they diverge on this issue. The business conservatives that Pew surveyed were the most affluent of the seven political types they defined — 45 percent have family incomes above $75,000. Fifty-seven percent of business conservatives say they are interested in business and finance, and 68 percent invest in the stock market. No other type has them beat on these two measures.
Americans' political beliefs are generally grounded in how they see politics interact or interfere with their own lives. We can focus on the diner-embed model of analyzing politics day and night, but for most Americans, gossiping about how a next-door neighbor lost their house or a cousin got a promotion at Goldman Sachs is all they've got. Business conservatives think the economic system is fair; others who aren't as enmeshed in it disagree.
So does conservative discontent with the current economic system mean that the rest of Congress is going to hang Thomas Piketty posters on their office walls and head to Zuccotti Park? (Or vote for Elizabeth Warren?)
Don't count on it. Business conservatives' confidence in the economic system might differ from everyone else, but business conservatives are politically active enough to make a big impression on politicians. Seventy-one percent of the business conservatives surveyed by Pew say they always or nearly always vote in primaries. "Steadfast conservatives" are similarly active too, but they aren't quite as affluent as their conservative counterparts, and they don't donate nearly as much money.
Another reason conservative politicians aren't about to join hands with Warren? The conservatives — and many of the liberals — who agree with her on the economy's unfairness don't agree with her on the source of the problem.
Skeptics, solid liberals and young conservative outsiders were the only political types more likely to think Wall Street was hurting the economy more than it helped it.
Until Americans agree on what needs to be done to fix the economy, their disappointment with its underpinnings are unlikely be met with any sweeping populist changes in policy. And this poll suggests that's not happening today.