Poll: Dems favor tax hike for rich over subsidies for middle class

Democratic voters would rather raise taxes on wealthy people than offer tax credits to lower-income Americans, according to a Hill-HarrisX poll released Friday.

Forty percent of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters said they preferred tax hikes for high-income people, compared with 12 percent who said people with smaller incomes should receive government subsidies at the state and federal level.

Forty-two percent said they preferred both options, and 6 percent said neither should be pursued.

Economic inequality has become a persistent theme within the 2020 Democratic presidential race with candidates like Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann Warren2020 Democrat: 'My DM's are open and I actually read & respond' Group of wealthy Americans write open letter asking to be taxed more Inslee unveils plan to fight fossil fuel pollution MORE (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck The Memo: All eyes on faltering Biden ahead of first debate Progressive group launches campaign to identify voters who switch to Warren MORE (I-Vt.) making wealth distribution a focal point in their campaigns.

Independents, like Democrats, were more interested in raising taxes on rich people than on increasing payments to lower- and middle-income people, according to the poll.

Thirty-nine percent preferred tax increases on the wealthy, 9 percent wanted subsidies for others and 30 percent wanted both. Twenty-two percent of independents said neither should be done.

GOP voters also preferred increased taxes on rich people over subsidies for lower-income groups. Thirty percent of Republican respondents wanted tax hikes, while 9 percent wanted subsidies. Twenty percent said they wanted both.

Among all voters, 36 percent favored tax increases on wealthy people, 10 percent wanted subsidies for other taxpayers, 31 percent wanted both while 22 percent didn't want either.

Public support for economic redistribution has increased in recent years.

A Gallup survey in in 1988 found that 71 percent of Americans said they believed the country was not divided between "haves" and "have-nots." That figure dropped to 54 percent in 2015.

The shift in Democratic opinions about America's economic system has been particularly pronounced in recent years. In a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, 71 percent of adults who leaned toward Democrats said they believed the U.S. economy favors powerful interests over most Americans. That number increased to 82 percent by 2017.

Democratic politicians have completely embraced their voters' new attitudes, according to Vanessa Williamson, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

"I think we've seen a real shift in what Democrats are willing to say about economic inequality. And partly that's a Bernie Sanders effect in 2016 and partly it's Elizabeth Warren but there's been a lot of movement on this issue," she said.

While Republicans overall have more confidence in the fairness of the U.S. economic system, recent polling suggests GOP voters are more economically progressive than their leaders.

In a February Hill-HarrisX survey, 65 percent of registered voters who favor Republicans said they supported an annual wealth tax similar to one proposed by Warren. A January Hill-HarrisX poll found that almost half of the GOP's voters approved of taxing income in excess of $10 million at over 70 percent.

Despite that apparent desire to have wealthy people pay more in taxes, Republican politicians will likely be able to forestall such ideas by focusing on economic development, according to Conor Maguire, a pollster with the GOP campaign firm WPA Intelligence.

In recent weeks, President TrumpDonald John TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates MORE and other Republican officials have accused Democrats of being "socialists" who want to completely upend the U.S. economic system, a line of attack that some centrist Democrats fear may be effective in some regions of the country.

"That's kind of a major point that we're going to need to talk about and we're going to be talking about, the difference between the two approaches," Maguire said.

The latest Hill-HarrisX survey was conducted March 9-10 among 1,001 registered voters and has a sampling margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

—Matthew Sheffield