The rich are more likely than the average individual to be intelligent and hardworking, according to more than 40% of the 2,500 adults recently surveyed by Pew Social Trends. Not that the survey respondents have a completely positive view of their wealthier counterparts: more than half of respondents see them as more likely to be greedy, while about one-third say they’re less likely to be honest.
Overall, however, the rich didn’t make out too badly in the survey, “Yes, the Rich Are Different.” Almost all the middle-class Americans surveyed – 92%, in fact – admire individuals who get rich by working hard.
Just who qualifies as rich? According to respondents, the median annual income a family of four needs to qualify as rich is $150,000. This varies by region, however, with those in the Northeast saying the family would need an income of $200,000, and those in the rest of the country saying $150,000 or $160,000 would do.
Similarly, suburbanites have a higher estimate of the income required to be rich: $200,000, versus $180,000 for city-dwellers, and $125,000 for those living in the country.
When it comes to taxes, just one quarter of those surveyed say the rich are paying their fair share; 58% indicate that they pay too little. In contrast, half of respondents say that middle income taxpayers are paying what they should, and 38% say they’re paying too much. Just 6% say they’re paying too little.
Perhaps not surprisingly, especially in a presidential election year, attitudes on the amount of taxes the wealthy are paying taxes vary between Republican and Democratic respondents. Forty-four percent of Republicans say upper-income households pay their fair share in taxes, although one-third say they pay too little. Just 13% of Democrats say the well-off pay their fair share, while more than three-quarters say they pay too little.
A recent poll by ABC News and the Washington Post, although on a slightly different subject – the overall economic system – still reveal similar attitudes. When 3,300 respondents were asked, “What do you think is the bigger problem in this country: unfairness in the economic system that favors the wealthy, or over-regulation of the free market that interferes with growth and prosperity?" 56% say unfairness. Slightly more than one-third say over-regulation.
However, the Tax Foundation found several flaws in the Pew survey. Joseph Henchman, an attorney and policy analyst with the organization, points out that the survey failed to ask respondents what they actually think the rich should pay, or what the rich pay now. Henchman also notes that most Americans view the wealthy as someone else; as a result, support for taxing them is higher in abstract questions than it is in actual proposals.
How about you? Do you think tax rates for the wealthy and not-so-wealthy are fair? Or, could they use some adjusting?