The folks at Gallup have been agog with good news this week. First there was the delightful poll showing that more people are more afraid of big government than of big business. Now Gallup is out with this:
Americans are now less likely to see U.S. society as divided into the "haves" and "have nots" than they were in 2008, returning to their views prior to that point. A clear majority, 58%, say they do not think of America in this way, after Americans were divided 49% to 49% in the summer of 2008.
Ross Kaminsky concludes that these findings suggest that the vicious rhetoric of class warfare is going over like a lead balloon. The rejection of class warfare and the fear of big government may have grown from the same roots:
Barack Obama has given the nation a tremendous object lesson by posing the federal government as the solution to all problems — and then proving that it isn't.
When the president said that spending a trillion dollars of our children's future earnings would keep unemployment below 8 percent only to see us spend the last two and a half years with only three months below 9 percent unemployment — and none below 8.5 percent — the public begins to see the economic emperor as wearing no clothes.
Even if the voters don't think about it explicitly, if the Obama administration's claims about government fixing the economy are so obviously false, then just perhaps the other charges made about evil capitalists being the source of all evil may also be false. At least, they're worth skepticism.
The majority (58 percent) of Democrats, unlike independents and Republicans, do see an America divided between “haves” and “have-nots.” Even so, Kaminsky points out that this is down 3 percent from 2008, when the press and politicians were blaming the financial crisis on Wall Street.
Class warfare appeals to people’s worst instincts; it relies on stoking envy and churning up hatred. The tactic of stirring up class enmity hasn’t worked that well in the U.S., possibly because Americans are interested in their own upward mobility, not in tearing down those who have already achieved success.
Good things come in threes: Gallup has another poll hot off the presses that shows that overwhelmingly people care more about growing the economy than income inequality; income inequality is an abstraction to most of us; having or not having work is quite concrete.
The poll’s summary:
More Americans say it is important that the federal government enact policies that grow the economy and increase equality of opportunity than say the same about reducing the income and wealth gap between the rich and the poor.
Taken with the other two polls, we can believe that most probably know that the best way for government to do this is to step aside and give free rein to businesspeople.
I realize I am obsessed with Occupy Wall Street, but I can’t help but believe that President Obama’s cultivation of this movement has contributed to what these polls are showing. The president has thrown his lot in with what David Bass calls “the something for nothing generation.”
It is a generation that expects somebody else to pay their college loan debts and would like to tax the successful to provide goodies for them and those of whom they approve.
These polls show how the ugly rhetoric of class warfare could backfire in 2012.