Poll finds split on government’s role in reducing income inequality

Maggie Barcellano
Maggie Barcellano sits down for dinner with her daughter, Zoe, 3, at Barcellano’s father’s house in Austin, Texas. Barcellano, who lives with her father, enrolled in the food stamps program to help save for paramedic training while she works as a home health aide and raises her daughter.
(Tamir Kalifa / Associated Press)

WASHINGTON -- Nearly four in 10 Americans want the government to do more to reduce the widening gap between rich and poor, according to poll results released Tuesday.

However, there was no clear consensus among respondents in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey for addressing income inequality, a topic that is expected to be a major focus of President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night.

The poll found that 37% of respondents said they want the government to be more involved in reducing income inequality, which has widened since the end of the Great Recession. An additional 14% said they want the government just to be involved as it already is.

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That means a bare majority of 51% said they want Washington to address the matter. Nearly the same amount, 46%, have a different view.

A quarter of respondents said the government should not be involved at all in dealing with income inequality, and 21% said they want officials to be less involved.

The new poll goes beyond results released by Gallup last week, which indicated 67% said they were dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are distributed in the U.S.

When it comes to priorities for the White House and Congress, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 45% said reducing income inequality was an “absolute priority this year.” About a quarter -- 26% -- said federal officials could wait until next year to address it, and 27% said it should not be pursued at all.


With 45% saying they want it to be a priority this year, income inequality ranked 12th on a list of issues facing the nation. The top issue was creating jobs, with 91% saying it should be a priority.

Other problems topping income inequality as pressing matters were reducing the federal budget deficit, ensuring all children have access to preschool education and addressing Iran’s nuclear program.

A couple of issues that ranked above income equality as issues are linked to it, including closing corporate tax loopholes, increasing the minimum wage and using federal aid to encourage colleges to offer affordable tuition.


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