It’s hard to remember a better time for politicians to talk about the issue of income inequality. But according to the Associated Press (1/24/14), Barack Obama’s State of the Union address will attempt to shift away that issue–too divisive, apparently–and opt instead for some discussion of economic opportunity. As Jim Kuhnhenn writes:
The adjustment reflects an awareness that Obama’s earlier language put him at risk of being perceived as divisive and exposed him to criticism that his rhetoric was exploiting the gap between haves and have-nots.
He also noted:
Obama’s December speech was well received by Democrats and liberals, but conservatives jumped on it, arguing that Obama was laying a foundation for economic redistribution.
Now, it’s not exactly surprising that Republicans would be mad at something Obama said. Would that really cause Obama to apparently shift his message on this issue? After a quote from Republican strategist Karl Rove, the AP offers a poll that shows Obama might be right to rein in this talk about inequality (see bold):
A new poll by the Pew Research Center and USA Today illustrates Obama’s message challenge. The poll found that nearly two out of three surveyed believe that the gap between the rich and everyone else has grown in the last 10 years, a view held by majorities across political party lines. But the poll found that Democrats and Republicans disagreed sharply on whether the government should intervene to close the gap. Among Democrats 90 percent said government should act whereas only 45 percent of Republicans said the same thing.
So it would appear that Obama needs to be careful–Democrats overwhelmingly support government action to combat inequality, Republicans do not. The problem is that the country is not just made up of Democrats and Republicans. As the Pew survey pretty clearly shows, Democrats and self-described independents both support government doing more to combat inequality. Together they account for close to 70 percent of respondents; that’s probably why when USA Today (1/23/14) wrote about their poll this way :
Seven in 10 say the government should take steps to reduce the gap between the rich and everyone else. There is considerable faith that it could have a significant effect.
The findings of the poll are pretty clear: People generally think inequality is a problem and they think the government should do more about it (hence the cheeky Slate headline, “America Embraces Class Warfare”).
Perhaps the White House really believes this would be a divisive message. That seems like a political miscalculation, at the very least; but AP‘s misunderstanding of a poll in order to buttress the White House is bad journalism.