Gallup: 17 Percent More Americans Want Wealth Redistribution Than During the Great Depression

Brittany M. Hughes | April 15, 2016
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A new poll from Gallup shows the number of Americans who now think wealth should be redistributed by the government is 17 percent higher than during the Great Depression, when only 35 percent of Americans believed it was the government’s job to forcibly spread the wealth between the rich and the poor.

According to the latest poll, 52 percent of Americans now believe the government should heavily tax the rich to create a more equal share of wealth among Americans.

On top of the stock market crash in 1929, the 1930s in the United States was a decade plagued by widespread unemployment and famine from the Dust Bowl that swept the Midwest, killing crops and devastating much of the nation’s food sources. According to the National Archives, the average annual income in 1939 was only $1,368, and the average unemployment rate was a whopping 18.26 percent – nearly quadruple the 5 percent unemployment rate during the 1920s.

Despite enduring nearly whole scale poverty and desperation among the working classes in America for nearly a decade, Gallup reports only about a third of Americans in the late 1930s wanted the government to step in and redistribute wealth by heavily taxing the rich.

From the latest Gallup poll:

A separate Gallup trend question addressing the issue of taxes paid by the well-to-do finds that a slight majority of Americans agree with the proposition that the government should redistribute wealth by "heavy taxes on the rich." 

Fortune Magazine first asked this question in the late 1930s, during the Depression, and at that point only about a third agreed. When Gallup updated the question in 1998, 45% agreed. Although the exact figures have fluctuated since, public opinion has been about evenly divided. Most recently, in 2013, 2015 and this year, 52% say the government should redistribute wealth by taxing the rich.

In 2014, the average American family income was $53,657, according to the most recent available data from the U.S. Census Bureau. In January, the U.S. Department of Labor reported the unemployment rate sat at 5 percent -- nearly one-fourth of what it was during the Great Depression. Even still, more than half of Americans (52 percent) reported believing that the government should redistribute wealth by imposing higher taxes on the rich, according to Gallup.

In the latest poll, an even larger majority of those polled (61 percent) reported they believe the wealthiest Americans are paying less than their fair share of taxes.

From Gallup:

Six in 10 Americans continue to believe that upper-income Americans pay too little in taxes. This attitude has been steady over the past five years, but is lower than in the early 1990s, when as many as 77% said those with higher incomes paid too little in taxes.

A breakdown of the data by party affiliation shows that 75 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of Independents and 45 percent of Republicans share the view that the wealthiest Americans pay too little in taxes.

Gallup conducted the poll between April 6-10  among 1,015 adults in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error was +/- 4 percentage points.

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