A recent Reason-Rupe poll finds 74 percent of Americans say they want Congress to prioritize policies that promote economic growth, while 20 percent want Congress to focus on reducing income inequality instead.
Similarly, when asked which economic issue would be most relevant to voters' judgments this November 23 percent said the "gap between rich and poor."
Focus on economic growth is a bi-partisan issue, including 69 percent of Democrats, 73 percent of independents, and 86 percent of Republicans who prioritize promoting economic growth over reducing income inequality.
Nevertheless, these results do not imply that Americans do not care about income inequality, quite the opposite. The Pew Research Center found that 78 percent of Americans think "the gap between rich and poor" is a "big problem" for the country. Moreover, the Public Religion Research Institute found 66 percent of Americans say "government should do more to reduce the gap between rich and poor."
But what do people mean when they say the government should "do more" ? It could mean anything from income redistribution to deregulating industries to allow for more job creation. In fact, when Americans are offered more concrete alternatives, 58 percent of Americans think that private sector growth is a better method that government policy (31%) to reduce income inequality, according to a New Models National Brand Poll.
In sum, Americans care about income inequality and would prefer disparities attenuated. However, when policies intended to reduce income inequality conflict with those intended to promote growth, Americans opt for growth policies.
This implies that policy advocates should either explain why policies intended to reduce income inequality will ultimately come at the expense of economic growth, or alternatively why this would not occur.
Ultimately, if Americans must make a choice, they opt for a more prosperous economically differentiated society over a less prosperous economically egalitarian society.
The Reason-Rupe national telephone poll, executed by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, conducted live interviews with 1000 adults on cell phones (500) and landlines (500) August 6-10, 2014. The poll's margin of error is +/-3.7%. Full poll results can be found here. including poll toplines (pdf) and crosstabs (xls).