Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 21
  • Cited by
    This article has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.

    Backus, Peter G. and Esteller-Moré, Alejandro 2016. Risk aversion and inequity aversion in demand for unemployment benefits. International Tax and Public Finance,

    Bloemraad, Irene Silva, Fabiana and Voss, Kim 2016. Rights, Economics, or Family?Frame Resonance, Political Ideology, and the Immigrant Rights Movement. Social Forces, Vol. 94, Issue. 4, p. 1647.

    Breen, Richard and Chung, Inkwan 2015. Income Inequality and Education. Sociological Science, Vol. 2, p. 454.

    Kuziemko, Ilyana Norton, Michael I. Saez, Emmanuel and Stantcheva, Stefanie 2015. How Elastic Are Preferences for Redistribution? Evidence from Randomized Survey Experiments†. American Economic Review, Vol. 105, Issue. 4, p. 1478.

    Morgan, Stephen and Kang, Minhyoung 2015. A New Conservative Cold Front? Democrat and Republican Responsiveness to the Passage of the Affordable Care Act. Sociological Science, Vol. 2, p. 502.

    SKILLING, PETER and McLAY, JESSICA 2015. Getting Ahead through Our Own Efforts: Public Attitudes towards the Deservingness of the Rich in New Zealand. Journal of Social Policy, Vol. 44, Issue. 01, p. 147.

    Steele, Liza G. 2015. Income Inequality, Equal Opportunity, and Attitudes About Redistribution*. Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 96, Issue. 2, p. 444.

    Wu, Alfred M. and Chou, Kee-Lee 2015. Public Attitudes towards Income Redistribution: Evidence from Hong Kong. Social Policy & Administration, p. n/a.

    ESSER, DANIEL E. and WILLIAMS, BENJAMIN J. 2014. Tracing Poverty and Inequality in International Development Discourses: An Algorithmic and Visual Analysis of Agencies’ Annual Reports and Occasional White Papers, 1978–2010. Journal of Social Policy, Vol. 43, Issue. 01, p. 173.

    Hayes, Thomas J. 2014. Do Citizens Link Attitudes with Preferences? Economic Inequality and Government Spending in the “New Gilded Age”. Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 95, Issue. 2, p. 468.

    Roberts, Benjamin J. 2014. Your Place or Mine? Beliefs About Inequality and Redress Preferences in South Africa. Social Indicators Research, Vol. 118, Issue. 3, p. 1167.

    Burak, Esra 2013. The social maximum: American attitudes toward extremely high incomes. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, Vol. 31, p. 97.

    Grayman, Justina Kamiel and Godfrey, Erin B. 2013. Social Justice Attitudes and Their Demographic Correlates Among a Nationally Representative Sample of U.S. Adolescents. Social Justice Research, Vol. 26, Issue. 4, p. 422.

    2013. Women and Poverty.

    Hopkins, D. J. 2012. Whose Economy?: Perceptions Of National Economic Performance During Unequal Growth. Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 76, Issue. 1, p. 50.

    O’Campo, Patricia 2012. Are We Producing the Right Kind of Actionable Evidence for the Social Determinants of Health?. Journal of Urban Health, Vol. 89, Issue. 6, p. 881.

    Pump, Barry 2012. A New Normal? American Economic Policymaking After The Great Recession. Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 40, p. 27.

    Quadagno, Jill and Pederson, JoEllen 2012. Has support for Social Security declined? Attitudes toward the public pension scheme in the USA, 2000 and 2010. International Journal of Social Welfare, Vol. 21, p. S88.

    Sachweh, P. 2012. The moral economy of inequality: popular views on income differentiation, poverty and wealth. Socio-Economic Review, Vol. 10, Issue. 3, p. 419.

    Shaw, G. M. and Gaffey, L. 2012. Trends: American Public Opinion on Economic Inequality, Taxes, and Mobility: 1990-2011. Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 76, Issue. 3, p. 576.


Americans' Social Policy Preferences in the Era of Rising Inequality

  • Leslie McCall (a1) and Lane Kenworthy (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 August 2009

Rising income inequality has been a defining trend of the past generation, yet we know little about its impact on social policy formation. We evaluate two dominant views about public opinion on rising inequality: that Americans do not care much about inequality of outcomes, and that a rise in inequality will lead to an increase in demand for government redistribution. Using time series data on views about income inequality and social policy preferences in the 1980s and 1990s from the General Social Survey, we find little support for these views. Instead, Americans do tend to object to inequality and increasingly believe government should act to redress it, but not via traditional redistributive programs. We examine several alternative possibilities and provide a broad analytical framework for reinterpreting social policy preferences in the era of rising inequality. Our evidence suggests that Americans may be unsure or uninformed about how to address rising inequality and thus swayed by contemporaneous debates. However, we also find that Americans favor expanding education spending in response to their increasing concerns about inequality. This suggests that equal opportunity may be more germane than income redistribution to our understanding of the politics of inequality.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Alberto Alesina , Rafael Di Tella , and Robert MacCulloch . 2004. Inequality and happiness: Are Europeans and Americans different? Journal of Public Economics 88: 2009–42.

Adam J. Berensky 2002. Silent voices: Social welfare policy opinions and political equality in America. American Journal of Political Science 46: 276–87.

John DiNardo , Nicole M. Fortin , and Thomas Lemieux . 1996. Labor market institutions and the distribution of wages, 1973–1992: A semiparametric approach. Econometrica 64: 1001–44.

Stanley Feldman . 1982. Economic self-interest and political behavior. American Journal of Political Science 26: 446–66.

Stanley Feldman . 1988. Structure and consistency in public opinion: the role of core beliefs and values. American Journal of Political Science 32: 416–40.

Stanley Feldman , and Marco R. Steenbergen . 2001. The humanitarian foundation of public support for welfare. American Journal of Political Science 45: 658–77.

Stanley Feldman , and John Zaller . 1992. The political culture of ambivalence: ideological responses to the welfare state. American Journal of Political Science 36: 268307.

Martin Gilens . 1999. Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Peter Gottschalk , and Sheldon Danziger . 2005. Inequality of wage rates, earnings, and family income in the United States, 1975–2002. Review of Income and Wealth 51: 231254.

Evelyne Huber , and John D. Stephens . 2001. Development and Crisis of the Welfare State. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lawrence F. Katz , and Kevin Murphy . 1992. Changes in relative wages, 1963–1987: Supply and demand factors. Quarterly Journal of Economics 107: 3578.

Lane Kenworthy , and Leslie McCall . 2008. Inequality, public opinion, and redistribution. Socio-Economic Review 6: 3568.

James R. Kluegal , David S. Mason , and Bernd Wegener , eds. 1995. Social Justice and Political Change: Public Opinion in Capitalist and Post-Communist States. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.

Herbert McCloskey , and John Zaller . 1984. The American Ethos: Public Attitudes toward Capitalism and Democracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Allan H. Meltzer , and Scott F. Richard . 1981. A rational theory of the size of government. Journal of Political Economy 89: 914–27.

Suzanne Mettler . 2007. The transformed welfare state and the redistribution of political voice. In The Transformation of American Politics, ed. P. Pierson and T. Skocpol . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Robert Moffitt , David Ribar , and Mark Wilhelm . 1998. The decline of welfare benefits in the U.S.: The role of wage inequality. Journal of Public Economics 68: 421–52.

Kevin J. Murphy 1997. Executive compensation and modern industrial revolution. International Journal of Industrial Organization 15: 417–25.

Benjamin I. Page , and Lawrence R. Jacobs . 2009. Class War? What Americans Really Think about Economic Inequality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Benjamin I. Page , and Robert Y. Shapiro . 1992. The Rational Public: Fifty Years of Trends in Americans' Policy Preferences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Thomas Piketty , and Emmanuel Saez . 2003. Income inequality in the United States: 1911–1998. Quarterly Journal of Economics 118 (1): 139.

Willem E. Saris , and Paul M. Sniderman , eds. 2004. Studies in Public Opinion: Attitudes, Nonattitudes, Measurement Error, and Change. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Sandra K. Schneider , and William G. Jacoby . 2005. Elite discourse and American public opinion: The case of welfare spending. Political Research Quarterly 58: 367–79.

Edward N. Wolff 2006. Does Education Really Help? Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *