Senate Democrats: Income Inequality Will Drive Politics Of 2012, Hurt Republicans

WASHINGTON -- Next year's election will not look like last year's Republican romp largely because America has woken up to the historic gap between rich and poor, Democrats argue in a new polling memo ahead of this week's push to retain a middle-class tax break.

The memo, written by pollster Geoff Garin for Democratic policymaker Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), argues that while the 2010 election was a referendum dominated by anti-tax Tea Party rage against Democratic leadership, the 2012 election will be different because Republicans now share control of the federal government and their policies are increasingly seen as favoring the rich.

With the Occupy Wall Street movement highlighting income inequality that has not been this high since the roaring '20s, the side of the rich will not be a good place to be in 2012, the memo argues.

"The Republican/Tea Party narrative about the economy has been superseded by a different narrative -- one that emphasizes the need to address the growing gap between those at the very top of the economic ladder and the rest of the country," Garin wrote.

One way Democrats think they can address that gap is to maintain a payroll tax cut that reduces the Social Security levy, leaving workers with $1,000 extra in their pockets -- or more at the higher end of the pay scale. Social Security tax is only paid on the first $106,000 of income, ensuring that the benefits of the tax cut go mainly to the middle class.

At least one Republican leader, Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), has signaled he will oppose extending the tax cut, although he and most other Republicans favor extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.

Democrats think that kind of stance from the GOP will boost the Democrats in 2012. Indeed, the Occupy movement already sees as a victory the death of Congress' super committee, which, if it had succeeded, likely would have increased the burden on the middle class.

For evidence, Garin's memo points to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that said, while 33 percent of the nation still strongly agrees that the debt and government must be cut and no taxes should be raised, a full 60 percent strongly agree that the current economic structure is out of whack in favor of the rich and that the government should restrain big banks and cut breaks for the wealthy. That includes 62 percent of independents, who are so key in electoral politics.

The Democratic memo also notes an ABC News/Washington Post poll that found 60 percent of Americans want the government to take steps to shrink the gap between rich and poor, versus 35 percent who do not.

"From the perspective of policy, there is a huge gap between what the public wants the government to do and the positions of the Republican Party on those issues," the Garin memo says.

While the data were toted up in a push to extend the payroll tax cut, the survey results are likely to be relevant in several other matters facing Congress over the next three weeks, including dealing with the alternative minimum tax -- which will hit middle-class Americans if a temporary fix is not extended -- and finding a way to extend emergency unemployment benefits again.

Read the full memo here.

Michael McAuliff covers politics and Congress for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.