In recent weeks, many political observers have described a rift between liberals and centrists in the Democratic Party over how to tackle poverty, income inequality, and broader issues of economic fairness. Some have framed the discussion around Elizabeth Warren vs. Hillary Clinton. Others have focused on differences between New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has proposed raising taxes on the rich to pay for a citywide prekindergarten program, and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has vowed to lower taxes.
But a new Pew Research Center/USA TODAY survey suggests that, at least for the moment, the issue of how best to deal with poverty and income inequality – and whether the government should address these issues at all – divides Republicans and those who lean toward the Republican Party more than it does Democrats and leaners. (See full table with detailed party breakdowns.)
To be sure, majorities of 60% or more among Republicans and Democrats across the ideological spectrum agree that inequality is on the rise, and about 90% of liberal and centrist Democrats say the government should do something about it. But while a 61%-majority of moderate and liberal Republicans say the government should do something to reduce the gap between the rich and everyone else, 55% of conservative Republicans don’t want the government to do much or anything at all about inequality.
Conservative Republicans are also far more likely than more moderate Republicans to say the government would do more to reduce poverty by lowering taxes on the wealthy and corporations to encourage investment and economic growth (70% vs. 42%); half of moderate and liberal Republicans say raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations to expand programs for the poor is a more effective way to reduce poverty. And while 78% of conservative Republicans believe government aid to the poor does more harm than good by making people too dependent on the government, more among moderate and liberal Republicans say it does more good than harm (52%) than say it has a negative impact (40%).
When it comes to increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, conservative Republicans oppose it by a 55% to 41% margin, while more centrist Republicans favor it by 71% to 29%. These two groups are somewhat less divided on proposals to extend federal unemployment benefits for a year – 50% of liberal and moderate Republicans favor it, compared with just 39% of conservative Republicans.
On all of these questions, there is far more consensus among liberal and centrist Democrats. For example, about 80% or more of Democrats who describe themselves as liberal and those who say they are moderate or conservative endorse a minimum wage increase from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour and a one-year extension of unemployment benefits for those out of work for a long time.
Solid majorities among liberal and centrist Democrats also agree that government aid to the poor does more good than harm because people can’t get out of poverty until their basic needs are met and that raising taxes on the wealthy and corporation to expand program for the poor is the most effective way to reduce poverty, even though liberal Democrats are more likely than more centrist ones to favor a tax increase by 13 percentage points.