Raising taxes on the rich isn’t just the wild fantasy of a few fringe politicians on the left. A growing share of the American population supports higher taxes on the net worth of the wealthy, explicitly as a form of redistribution. According to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday, “64 percent strongly or somewhat agreed that ‘the very rich should contribute an extra share of their total wealth each year to support public programs’ — the essence of a wealth tax.” Fifty-four percent disagreed with the idea that “the very rich should be allowed to keep the money they have, even if that means increasing inequality.”
Reuters did detect some partisan disagreement on the notion of a wealth tax, though obviously not enough to dent overall support for it. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats back the idea; 53 percent of Republicans agree. And the two groups have very different ideas about how the government ought to spend the revenue it raised. “Rich people have a right to blow their money on Lamborghinis and world-wide cruises or whatever,” one Republican, Esin Zimmerman, told Reuters. “But that money could be used in other ways that help people.”
“It could put the border wall up,” she added.
A border wall is not what Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez typically propose when they talk about raising taxes on wealth. For left-wing candidates, a wealth tax is a way to fund Medicare for All, or cover the costs of free public college tuition — causes that most conservative Americans still don’t support. About 40 percent, for example, said they’d support proposals to make public college tuition-free and to forgive student debt, according to a Hill/HarrisX poll published last year.
But Reuters’ findings of broad overall support for what amounts to the redistribution of wealth isn’t an outlier. An earlier poll by the New York Times and SurveyMonkey found that 55 percent of Republicans supported a 2 percent tax on those with a net worth of over $50 million — a sign, perhaps, that candidates can run on raising taxes for the rich without worrying that being perceived as socialist will doom their campaigns. In fact, a wealth tax might even be attractive. The enduring popularity of politicians like Sanders seems to suggest as much.
Reuters also suggests that support for a wealth tax has increased over recent years, and cites polling from Gallup that indicate such a trend. It’s not particularly difficult to understand why that shift in public opinion may have occurred. Life in the U.S. might be delightful for everyone at the top of the heap, but for millions of other people it’s a struggle. The lopsided quality of the American experience isn’t a recent development, and neither are proposals to reduce the nation’s tremendous wealth gap. But inequality is getting worse, and the language of class and redistribution is in vogue in ways it hasn’t been for decades. Public opinion is shifting, and the nation’s richest households might not be able to fend it off much longer.