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Income Inequality: Democrats Have Some Work to Do

The 14th question of the Jan. 22-25 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll produced a set of responses I didn’t expect.  

The poll asked, “When it comes to reducing income inequality between the rich and the poor, do you want to see the government more involved than it currently is, as involved as it currently is, less involved than it currently is, or not involved at all in this issue?”  

I assumed that buzzwords like “inequality,” “the rich” and “the poor” would produce an outpouring of support for more government action, especially because the question didn’t mention any costs related to more government involvement. And yet, only 37 percent of respondents said the government should be “more involved,” while 46 percent said the government should be less involved or not involved at all.  

Democrats have been talking a good deal recently about income inequality, and recently elected “progressive” officeholders in New York City and Seattle suggest that the party’s base is ready for more red meat economic populism.  

But more than that, the mainstream media has started to talk about the gap between the wealthy and the middle class, thereby giving weight to the Democratic argument for a higher minimum wage and additional funds for the long-term unemployed, two issues that have polled well recently.  

The level of support for more government involvement suggests that income inequality is, at best, only a Democratic base issue at the moment. Clearly, party strategists have some very heavy lifting to do between now and November to increase the salience of the issue and ultimately to get voters to cast their votes on the issue rather than on the president’s performance to date.

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