Poll: Younger voters want universal basic income while older ones reject it overwhelmingly

Andrew Yang

A new poll shows that most Americans aren’t fully onboard with the idea of a universal basic income for all adults.

A majority of registered voters, 57 percent, contacted by the Hill-HarrisX poll said that they were opposed to the idea of giving Americans $1,000 per month. Forty-three percent supported it. That number was similar to a 2018 Gallup poll which found that proposals to provide universal basic incomes (UBI) were supported by 48 percent of the adults who were surveyed.

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has become an internet sensation based on his support for the policy.

The Hill-HarrisX survey found a number of stark demographic divides on the question. Most younger respondents said they supported a UBI while older respondents overwhelmingly rejected it.

Fifty-five percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 34 supported universal basic income as did 53 percent of respondents between 35 and 49.

Voters older than 65 were overwhelmingly against the proposal with only 21 percent supporting it. Only 38 percent of respondents between the ages of 50 and 64 favored giving a monthly minimum income.

“The figures actually do confirm what I’m seeing on the ground is that young people are very excited about a new economy that puts people first,” Yang said in a Friday interview with Hill.TV.

The upstart Democratic presidential hopeful said he believed that more Americans would support his idea once they became more aware of it and how many jobs will be impacted by advances in artificial intelligence and robotics.

“I’m very confident that you’re going to see those numbers just keep on trending up because people are waking up to the reality that we need to go bigger in an age of artificial intelligence and self driving cars and trucks,” he said.

The age divide was unsurprising to Paul Glastris, editor in chief of Washington Monthly, a progressive magazine that has focused its coverage heavily on economic inequality.

“Anyone under the age of 40-45 has lived through a pretty horrible economy where starting salaries are not what they used to be, you’ve got student debt problems, housing is out of reach in a lot of places, wage increases have been minimal,” he said. “So your entire professional life has been in an economy that hasn’t helped you make it.”

Strong partisan differences were also observable in the polling data with a majority of Democrats, 54 percent, favoring a universal basic income while only 27 percent of Republicans supported it. Independents were mostly opposed to the proposal as well, it garnered approval from only 44 percent of them.

The survey also found strong income and place of residence divisions with only 37 percent of suburban voters favoring a universal basic income. The proposal garnered stronger support among urban residents, a majority of whom (54 percent) supported it. Rural voters, who have a stronger affiliation with the Republican party, were somewhat more supportive of the idea than suburban residents. Forty-four percent of respondents living in sparsely populated areas backed UBI.

People living in households making less than $75,000 annually were split on the proposal with 49 percent favoring it and 51 percent opposing it. Their more well-off counterparts were overwhelmingly opposed to universal basic income programs with just 36 percent said they supported them.

Universal basic income proposals have been around for several decades but have not attracted widespread public discussion until very recently. Initially, they attracted support from right-leaning economists like Milton Friedman who backed them as a substitute for social welfare programs. The state of Alaska’s Permanent Fund program has long disbursed money to all citizens, adults and children alike, typically in excess of $1,000 annually. Italy rolled out a “Citizen Income” initiative for people with low-paying jobs earlier this year.

In the past several years, however, prominent left-leaning technology billionaires such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg have promoted basic incomes as a way to assist people whose livelihoods have been disrupted by technology.

Large-scale UBI programs have attracted criticism, however, with some opponents claiming they would cause economic inflation, become too expensive, or not adequately address economic inequality.

—Matthew Sheffield