The wealthiest Americans in the country have disproportionate influence over our nation's leaders. That wouldn't be such a big problem, if only they were a little more like you and me.
Yes, America’s super-rich are both more likely to be politically active and have access to lawmakers, a recent study from Benjamin Page and Jason Seawright, professors at Northwestern University, and Larry Bartels, a professor at Vanderbilt University. But those wealthy Americans tend to have political priorities more in line with those found on cable news networks than in Americans homes, the study found.
What are those priorities exactly? First and foremost, rich people care about the deficit. More than 85 percent of the survey participants said they considered the nation’s budget deficit to be a “very important” problem facing the country, the researchers found. In addition, nearly one-third of those surveyed said the budget deficit and too much government spending is the nation’s biggest issue.
That stands in contrast to the rest of the country, only 7 percent of which focused on the budget deficit, instead zeroing in on jobs and the economy, according to a 2011 CBS survey cited by the researchers.
“Why did policymakers focus so intently on the deficit issue?” Page and Bartels wrote in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times. “One reason may be that the small minority that saw the deficit as the nation's priority had more clout than the majority that didn't.”
Rich Americans also have ideas about how to cut that deficit that differ from the less wealthy. Compared to others, the survey found the rich are more likely to want to cut government-subsidized health care and social welfare programs like Social Security. They're also less supportive of initiatives that help the unemployed and raise the standard of living for low-wage workers than the rest of the country.
“If wealthy Americans wield an extra measure of influence over policy making, and if they strongly favor deficit reductions through spending cuts – including cuts in Social Security and Medicare – this may help explain why a number of public officials have advocated deep cuts in the very social welfare programs that are most popular among ordinary Americans,” the researchers wrote.