Democrats hoping to use income inequality to drive voters to the polls in November face a critical problem: Americans may not know just how well-off the nation’s rich are.
In a recent study, Americans told researchers they thought CEO pay at major corporations was approximately 30 times more than their own. Actually, CEO pay averages 354 times what a worker earns at the same company.
Americans also said they thought the pay gap between CEOs and workers should be approximately 7 to 1. To achieve that ratio, workers would have to make $1.8 million each year, a separate study concluded.
Prominent Democrats, including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have gained national attention for focusing on income inequality. Some states this year have put minimum wage referenda on their ballots in November, a move that could drive Democratic turnout in competitive races.
The misperception of the pay gap may help explain why strategists have seen recently that income inequality is not an issue resonating with voters.
“I think it doesn’t have a personal immediacy and there are lot of other things that speak to income inequality that are much more immediate and much more tangible and much more real to people,” Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster, told The Washington Post in July.
While income inequality may not be a top issue in this year’s election, Americans' view of the ideal pay gap shows it has the potential to energize support in the future for candidates who can awaken voters to what's wrong with the rich dominating the nation.