Economic divide—more than just a partisan battle

As President Obama delivered his State of the Union speech last week, virtually all Americans (91%) surveyed in the latest NBC/WSJ poll* said that creating jobs should be an absolute priority for the President and Congress to address.

Indeed, just 28% said they are satisfied with the state of the U.S. economy today, versus 71% who are dissatisfied.  And, just 22% believe the economy is working well for the middle class.

Of course, President Obama did talk about creating jobs and improving the economy in his speech last Tuesday.  He also talked about income inequality and the need to “speed up [economic] growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class.”

But, here’s where things get tough – while we may all agree that creating jobs and improving the economy is critical for our country, the way to get there is where we meet the fork in the road.

Americans are very divided over how much the government should be involved in reducing income inequality between the rich and poor – 51% say the government should be more involved or as involved as it currently is, versus 46% who say the government should be less involved or not involved at all.

chart 1

As you might expect, there is a gaping partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats on this issue. By 77% to 19% Democrats say there should be government involvement, while by 76% to 23% Republicans say there should not be government involvement. Independents are evenly split (49% government involved, 48% government not involved).

What’s more interesting is how this issue is viewed among different age groups and income levels.  While 18-34 year olds and households earning less than $30,000 per year side solidly with government involvement, other cohorts are less certain and more divided on the issue.

chart 2

So while we all want a brighter economic future, how to get there is still a challenge. With such a vast partisan gap and the division among voters of varying age and income levels, how much government plays a role is sure to be a continuing battle during this election year and beyond.

(Public Opinion Strategies partners with Peter D. Hart Research Associates to conduct the NBC/WSJ polls.  Neither Peter D. Hart Research Associates nor NBC/WSJ are responsible for these conclusions.)



*NBC/WSJ National Survey of 800 adults, conducted January 22-25, 2014