In recent months Democratic presidential candidates likeSen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have proposed imposing wealth taxes while lawmakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio‐Cortez have suggested returning top marginal tax rates to 70%. However, some have cautioned that such proposals would not do much to raise government revenue. However, supporters of these tax proposals have argued that raising revenue isn’t really the point.
For instance, economists Gabriel Zucman and Emmanuel Saez argued in the New York Times that raising taxes on the wealthy was to safeguard “democracy against oligarchy.” Vanessa Williamson from the Brookings concurred arguingthat “the purpose of high tax rates on the rich is the reduction of vast fortunes that give a handful of people a level of power incompatible with democracy.”
The Cato 2019 Welfare, Work, and Wealth National Survey investigates what the public think about the rich and their impact on democracy. The survey of 1,700 Americans finds that 62% of Americans disagree that “billionaires are a threat to democracy” while 37% agree.
Phrased differently, similar shares disagree (57%) “we shouldn’t let people get too rich in this country because rich people have too much political power and threaten democracy,” while 42% agree.
Overall, Americans don’t think that it’s worth restricting a person’s wealth because of the risk they might pose to the democratic process. Instead, Americans are comfortable with people getting rich. Thus, 84% believe there is “nothing wrong with a person trying to make as much money as they honestly can.”
54% of Democrats Worry the Rich Pose Threat to Democracy
Democrats stand out with 54% who agree that billionaires are a threat to democracy; 45% disagree. In contrast, 63% of independents and 79% of Republicans reject the claim that billionaires threaten the democratic process.
This question divides the Democratic coalition, however. Nearly two‐thirds (66%) of strong liberals agree that billionaires threaten democracy compared to 48% of moderate liberals.
Young Americans ages 18–29 are also more likely to accept the claim, with 51% who believe billionaires threaten democracy, compared to 40% of those ages 30–44, a third of people ages 45–64, and 26% of seniors.
Read more of the survey report here.
The Cato Institute 2019 Welfare, Work, and Wealth Survey was designed and conducted by the Cato Institute in collaboration with YouGov. YouGov collected responses online March 5 to 8, 2019 from a representative national sample of 1,700 Americans 18 years of age and older. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.2 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.