The United States stands out as the most economically unequal industrialized democracy. The wealthiest Americans hold nearly as much income today as they did prior to the Great Depression. Despite decades of rising inequality, public support for redistribution has not increased in a meaningful way. This is puzzling because it runs counter to canonical models of democracy, inequality, and redistribution, which assume that the public will favor increased redistribution when inequality rises. It is also puzzling considering a majorities of Americans claim to be concerned about rising inequality, believe that the rich have too much and the poor too little. Americans appear to be well-aware that inequality has risen over the past several decades, and yet, despite this fact, favor for wealth redistribution is not as high as one would imagine, given the circumstances.
This dissertation seeks to examine the nature of public opinion toward income inequality and economic redistribution as well as the puzzling relationship between rising inequality and public opinion toward redistribution in the United States. The researcher argues that the low popularity of wealth redistribution is not due to apathy of current circumstances, or even ignorance of inequality. In fact, this dissertation posits mass responsiveness to wealth inequality is due to low trust in the government as well as negative attitudes toward a growing and highly-salient immigrant population. Furthermore, generally low levels of political knowledge mean that citizens are failing to connect strongly their opposition to inequality and favoritism of the lower classes over the upper classes, with support for government policies meant to reduce income disparities.
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