New study shows wealthy disagree with majority of Americans on budget deficits

Sarah Tassoni, Reporter

A collaboration between two Northwestern professors and a Vanderbilt University professor found the topic  many political talk shows have focused on for months: The wealthy disagree with the majority of the American public on how to reduce the country’s budget deficits.

NU political science professors Benjamin Page and Jason Seawright and Vanderbilt political science Prof. Larry Bartels founded the study titled “Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans” to reveal disparity in attitudes among Americans about reducing budget deficits, specifically on entitlement program spending and raising taxes on the rich.

Page said he, Seawright and Bartels decided to carry out the study, which is set to be published in March, as a way to shed more light on the political influence of the wealthy.

“We’ve been discovering more and more evidence that wealthy people have a lot of political influence and we are trying to find out how they use that influence,” Page said.

The study was conducted by the National Opinion Research Center, which interviewed more than 100 wealthy individuals in the Chicago area making at least $8 million a year. The research process was very “difficult” and “expensive,” Page said, due to the security barriers of many of the participants.

Page said that the main findings of the study were that rich Americans would rather reduce deficits by cutting entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare instead of raising taxes on the rich.

These findings are a major contrast to how the majority of Americans feel. Most “ordinary citizens” are in favor of government aid for education, more regulation of corporations and heavily taxing the rich to solve the country’s major budgetary issues. If current laws governing federal spending and taxes do not change, the federal deficit for 2013 is projected to drop to $845 billion, the smallest it has been since the economic downturn in 2008, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

As for what the study’s findings mean for the future, Page said there will most likely be fights over the budget sequester, which involves mandatory cuts to domestic and defense spending, and a backlash against Republicans, many of whom disagree with President Barack Obama’s approach to reducing the deficit.

— Sarah Tassoni