(CN) – A majority of Americans believe there is too much economic inequality in the U.S., the Pew Research Center reported Thursday, but most say lowering health care costs is a higher priority.
In a survey of 6,878 adults from Sept. 16 to 29, researchers found that 61% of respondents said there is too much income inequality in the U.S., composed of 78% of Democratic respondents and 41% of Republicans.
Republicans and Democrats were also split on assigning blame for economic inequality. For example, Republicans were more likely to attribute inequality to individualistic traits.
Sixty percent of Republican respondents said that personal life choices contribute to inequality, while only 27% of Democratic respondents said the same. Forty-eight percent of Republicans said income inequality comes from the idea that "some people work harder than others," compared to just 22% of Democrats.
In contrast, Democrats were more likely to attribute inequality to institutional and societal factors. Fifty percent of them attributed economic inequality to racial and ethnic discrimination, whereas only 11% of Republicans said the same. Fifty-four percent of Democrats said that inequality came from a lack of corporate regulations, compared to just 18% of Republicans.
However, only 42% of all respondents said reducing income inequality should be a top policy priority for the federal government. Making health care more affordable was named the top priority by most respondents (72%), followed by dealing with terrorism (65%), reducing gun violence (58%) and addressing climate change (49%). Lower incoming inequality came in fifth place, just above reducing illegal immigration (39%).
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Americans spent
$3.6 trillion on health care in 2018, averaged to more than $11,000 per person. Health care spending accounted for more than 17% of the U.S. gross domestic product in 2018.
Researchers asked respondents who felt that there was too much economic inequality to assign responsibility for addressing it. Within that group, 66% said that the federal government has the responsibility to fix it, broken down into 75% of Democrats and 44% of Republicans. However, a majority from both parties –51% for Republicans and 67% for Democrats – said that large corporations should also contribute to reducing economic inequality.
Those who lamented the extent of economic inequality also disagreed on solutions along partisan lines, with the exception of ensuring that workers have the appropriate skills necessary for modern jobs – that was supported by 56% of Republicans and 65% of Democrats.
Most Democrats supported increasing taxes on the wealthy (69%), free college tuition at public two-year colleges (59%), a Medicare expansion to include all Americans (60%), increasing the federal minimum wage (56%), free tuition at all public universities (54%) and eliminating college debt (55%).
Though most Republicans unhappy with the level of economic inequality said ensuring job skills was the best solutions, a plurality of them (45%) sought a reduction in illegal immigration to mitigate economic inequality. By contrast, only 8% of Democrats supported that effort.
While just 36% of Republicans thought increased taxes on the wealthy would make a significant difference regarding economic inequality, 65% of them nonetheless said that the U.S. should raise taxes on the wealthiest individuals. Almost all Democrats (91%) said they supported tax increases on the highest earners.
Though respondents from each party disagreed on specific responsible parties and solutions to economic inequality, majorities from both sides who lamented such economic inequality said addressing it would require major changes — 50% for Republicans and 74% for Democrats.
Researchers also stratified respondents by income. They found that not only were lower income earners most likely to say that the federal government must prioritize economic inequality at 52%, they were also the most likely to support federal assistance programs for necessities, like public education (86%), health insurance (79%), viable retirement income (75%), adequate housing (66%) and a college education (53%).