Bad news for the left: Americans just aren’t that into your inequality agenda

by Ryan Streeter on December 19, 2011. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

In case you missed it, Gallup had a new poll out at the end of last week showing that the majority of Americans really don’t care all that much about reducing inequality.

    • How many Americans said it is “extremely important” to grow and expand the economy? 32%
    • How many said the same about increasing equality of opportunity so people can get ahead? 29%
    • How many said the same about reducing the income gap between rich and poor? 17%

Although, as one might expect, Democrats were much more likely to say reducing inequality is extremely important, less than half of independents thought so.

This reinforces one of the two biggest problems with the OWS movement and why it creates just as many problems for Democrats as it helps them solve: Americans don’t care as much about OWS’s aims as OWS thinks Americans should (the other problem, by the way, is that OWS has never been able to articulate a policy solution that people can identify with, like the Tea Party did when it advocated cutting spending and ending earmarks).

None of this means that inequality isn’t a problem. I believe it is, mainly for the same reasons that Tyler Cowen articulated nearly a year ago in the American Interest. But it does suggest, as Walter Russell Mead writes (also at AI), that populism on the left is out of step with what Americans want, which in turn means that the Obama White House will likely need to back off the class warfare rhetoric and talk more convincingly about jobs if the President wants to keep his job next November.

I would go a step further and say the left’s worldview has a deep, inherent flaw that will continue to keep lefties down and out until they figure out that it’s time for a new kind of New Democrat. That inherent flaw is the inability or unwillingness to recognize the difference between legitimate and illegitimate wealth. Arthur Brooks calls in “earned success.” We might also call it the just reward for work and production, which just about everyone believes in. Americans, at heart, want to admire – and even be – those wealthy people who did something good for the world, who created something new, who climbed the ladder through hard work and effort. This is the point I was making last week in this Star column, which has incited a more emotional response – both positive and negative – from readers than is usual.