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Wealth gap draws Californians’ ire

Majorities of Californians are dissatisfied with the way income and wealth in the state are distributed and believe the gap between the rich and the rest of the population is greater now than in the past. Yet, the public is divided about the extent to which government should try to reduce the wealth gap. In addition, Californians are evenly split when asked about raising the state minimum wage beyond its already scheduled increases.

The public divides sharply along party and ideological grounds about the role that government should be playing in trying to reduce the wealth gap and in changing state minimum wage laws. The findings in the latest Field Poll can be seen here.

While majorities of Democrats and strong liberals support a more active government role in reducing the wealth gap and favor increasing the state minimum wage above its already scheduled increases, majorities of Republicans and strong conservatives are opposed.

The poll also finds that Californians born in the U.S. hold different views about the disparity of income than foreign-born immigrants. U.S.-born Californians are more likely to report dissatisfaction with the wealth gap and feel it is greater than in the past. However, they are less apt to feel that government should be doing a lot to try to reduce the gap, and a majority opposes increasing the state minimum wage beyond its already scheduled increases than the foreign-born public.

Foreign-born immigrants, on the other hand, are not nearly as dissatisfied with the way income is distributed in California and are less apt to feel it is greater now than in the past. Yet, a plurality supports government taking a more active role to reduce the wealth disparity, and a majority supports increasing the state minimum wage.

These are highlights of the findings from the latest Field Poll, conducted among 1,020 California adults in six languages and dialects.

By a 54% to 38% Californians say they are dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are distributed in California. This view is shared by similar proportions of Democrats as Republicans and by majorities of both liberals and conservatives. Dissatisfaction is reported by virtually all age, income and gender subgroups of the state’s adult population.

The largest differences of opinion about this issue are between Californians who were born in the U.S. and those who were not. By a two-to-one margin (60% to 32%) U.S.-born Californians report
being dissatisfied with the distribution of income and wealth. By contrast, Californians born outside the U.S. are more likely to say they are satisfied than dissatisfied.

These same differences are also observed within the state’s Latino population. Majorities of  California Latinos born in the U.S. say they are dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are
distributed, while Latinos born outside the U.S. are more likely to be satisfied.

Nearly six in ten Californians (58%) believe the income gap between the wealthy and everyone else is larger than it is has been in the past. This compares to one in four (26%) who think it is about the same and just 7% who believe it is smaller.

While those who identify themselves as strongly liberal in politics are the most likely subgroup to report this (82%), majorities or pluralities of Californians of all other political stripes and party
loyalties see the income gap as larger now than in the past.

Once again, there are significant differences between U.S. born and foreign-born Californians, with U.S. born residents more likely than foreign-born residents to believe the income gap is larger now.

Californians are divided when asked how much government should be doing to try to reduce the gap between the wealthy and everyone else. About one in three (34%) feel that government should
be doing a lot to reduce the wealth disparity, 33% say some, while 24% say government shouldn’t be exerting much of a role in trying to remedy the situation.

Views about this are highly partisan and ideological. Pluralities of Democrats and liberals think government should be doing a lot to address the wealth gap. By contrast, a plurality of Republicans
(45%) and a majority of strong conservatives (53%) feel it shouldn’t be playing much of a role.

There are also differences in opinions about the role that government should be taking on this matter by income, age, race/ethnicity and country of birth. Most likely to believe government
should be doing a lot to address the wealth gap are foreign-born residents, African-Americans, foreign-born Latinos, and those with household incomes of less than $60,000.

Californians are divided when asked their views about the state’s existing minimum wage laws.

When told that under current law the state minimum wage was increasing from $8 to $9 per hour on July 1 and would increase to $10 per hour in January 2016, less than half (48%) say that the
minimum wage should be increased above these levels. This compares to 47% who feel otherwise,  saying either that the current schedule of increases are adequate (37%) or that the state minimum
wage has already been raised too much (10%).

Opinions about increasing the state minimum wage are highly partisan and ideological.

While majorities of Democrats (57%), independents (60%) and strong liberals (64%) support increasing the state’s minimum wage above its current scheduled increases, even larger majorities of
Republicans (70%) and strong conservatives (75%) are opposed.

There is also majority support for increasing the state’s minimum wage among foreign-born residents, African Americans, foreign-born Latinos, Californians age 30-49, and residents with
household incomes of less than $20,000. However, standing in opposition are majorities of U.S.-born residents, residents under age 30, seniors 65 or older, white-non-Hispanics and those with
annual household incomes of $60,000 or more.

Ed’s Note: The findings are based on a Field Poll completed June 5-22, 2014 among a random sample of 2,013 California adults. The survey was administered in six languages and dialects – English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Korean, depending on the preference of the voter.


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