Nate Kelly, a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Peter Enns of Cornell University studied of economic inequality and public views of government redistribution programs by analyzing hundreds of thousands of responses to survey questions from 1952 to 2006.
The results are very revealing about the mentality and conditioning of poor Americans, and poor Americans certainly now includes a large chunk of people who like to consider themselves as middle class! One would imaging that people struggling in hard economic circumstances would appreciate government assistance, but they do not in the US. Kelly found:
When inequality in America rises, both the rich and the poor become more conservative in their ideologies. It is counterintuitive, but rather than generating opinion shifts that would make redistributive policies more likely, increased economic inequality produces a conservative response in public sentiment.
As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, both oppose government welfare programs. At present, in the US, governments cannot act to change inequality. As Obama is finding out, the poor even oppose measures that help them! Poorly off subjects, asked if they thought the government spent too much money on welfare, inevitably replied “yes”, and still do even though inequality over the last few decades has zoomed in the US.
This isn't because are unaware. They know about the huge wealth differences in the US. The reason is, the authors conclude, because the elites, political leaders and media moguls, distract and shape public opinion. In good economic times the media focus on individual achievement, and so the poor resist government programs. But in bad economic times, the media emphasize government welfare programs as handouts, and no one likes a self image of being a beggar or a hobo down on their luck. Kelly observes that:
What is clear from our work is that the self reinforcing nature of economic inequality is real, and that we must look beyond simple defects in the policy responsiveness of American democracy to understand why this is the case.
He means, of course, that leaders like Obama who would like to redistribute the huge inequalities in US wealth have not been utterly lacking in the US, but the US propaganda machine is so successful that too many people just cannot bring themselves to admit they would welcome it. They are conscious enough about their own poor circumstances, but simply do not realize how the US media manipulate them. Obama and anyone equally public minded are bound to lose until poor Yankees realize the rich and their media are pissing on them from a great height!