First-Ever Political Study of Top 1% Has Found Extreme Conservatism, Intense Political Involvement

A year ago, to little public notice, the academic journal Perspectives on Politics published a landmark study, ”Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans,” by Benjamin Page, Larry Bartels, and Jason Seawright; which reports that, among the American aristocracy, there exists pervasive extreme conservatism, and also a virtual nonstop involvement in politics by them — in other words, it finds the same two things that writers have hypothesized to exist among aristocracies throughout all of human history. But, for the first time ever, these researchers have now attached precise numbers to these two hypotheses, and have established that this is the way aristocrats actually are. Consequently, the much-noted takeover of “Main Street” by “Wall Street” can be explained by the fact that the aristocracy are far more conservative, and also far more politically active, than the general population are.

73% of the respondents in this study were wealthier than $5 million. 36% were wealthier than $10 million. 22% were wealthier than $20 million. And 8% were wealthier than $40 million.

The wealthier the respondent, the more extreme was his or her extreme conservatism.

40% of the respondents had “Made Contact With” (which was a conspicuously undefined phrase in the study) the person’s U.S. Senator.

37% had made contact with with his Representative.

12% had, with a White House Official.

21% had, with an Official at a Regulatory Agency.

Of these “contacts,” 44% were asserted to have been for private business reasons, such as to “try to get the Treasury to honor their commitment to extend TARP fund to a particular bank.”

99% of respondents had voted in 2008.

84% said that they were paying attention to politics “‘most of the time.’ Asked how many days of the week they talk politics, the median response was five days. (More than one volunteered ‘all the time.’)” So, now, we know whose brains are connected to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.”

“Fully two-thirds contributed money to politics, giving an average of $4,633 to political campaigns or organizations over the previous twelve months.” And, “A remarkable 21 percent … solicited or ‘bundled’ other peoples’ political contributions.”

What, then, were their political issues, which so obsessed them?

70% were opposed to more federal regulation of “Small business.”

87% were opposed to “responsibility of the government to reduce the differences in income between people with high incomes and those with low incomes.” Studies of the general public showed that the comparable percentage among the public was 54%.

83% were opposed to the idea that “our government should redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich.” 48% of the general public were.

Overwhelmingly, by a 33% net margin, top 1%ers wanted Social Security spending to be “cut back.” Even more overwhelmingly, by a net 46% margin, the general public wants it to be “expanded.”

By a net 19% margin, those rich want federal spending for health care to be “cut back”; and the public, by a net 44% margin, want it to be “expanded.”

81% of the rich oppose the idea that “The government in Washington ought to see to it that everyone who wants to work can find a job.” 68% of the general public favor that same idea.

92% of the rich oppose the idea that “The federal government should provide jobs for everyone able and willing to work who cannot find a job.” 53% of the general public support it.

77% of the rich oppose the idea that “The government should provide a decent standard of living for the unemployed.” 50% of the general public do.

60% of the rich oppose a “minimum wage high enough so that no family with a full-time worker falls below official poverty line.” 78% of the general public support that proposal.

68% oppose “national health insurance, which would be financed by tax money, paying for most forms of health care.” 61% of the general public support that proposal.

59% of the rich are not “willing to pay more taxes in order to provide health coverage for everyone.” The exact same percentage, 59% of the general public are “willing” to do that; they have far less money, but are far more willing to help others.

72% of the rich oppose that “The federal government should make sure that everyone who wants to go to college can do so.” 78% of the general public support that proposal.

65% of the rich oppose that “The federal government should spend whatever is necessary to ensure that all children have really good public schools they can go to.” 87% of the general public support that proposal.

Well over 90% of both groups, 98% of the rich and 92% of the public, support that “High school students should be offered the option of taking vocational education to prepare them for work immediately following high school [vs. all students being required to pursue a college track].” (Perhaps the rich agree on that because this proposal will give them, at public expense, trained workers.)

55% of the rich agree “The government has an essential role to play in regulating the market.” 71% of the public do.

By a net margin of 18% the rich agree that there should be more “federal regulation” of “Wall Street firms.” By a net margin of 45% the public do.

By a net margin of 5% the rich agree that there should be more “federal regulation” of “Oil industry.” By a net margin of 50% the public do.

38% of the rich agree that “Government should use … corporate income taxes [paid ultimately by stockholders, mainly themselves] … a lot … for getting the revenue to fund government programs.” 62% of the public do.

17% of the rich agree that “Our government should redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich.” 53% of the public do.

The authors found some stark evidence that the wealthier a rich person is, the more conservative he or she tends to be. For example, “The wealthiest of the wealthy tend to favor less regulation.” “The wealthiest also tilted more toward cutting back domestic social welfare programs, especially Social Security.”

Moreover, amongst the rich, every sub-group — gender, age, education, even whether they were first-generation rich or rich via inheritances — varied insignificantly from one-another: all sub-groups were the same — extremely conservative. “The chief exception” was “The 24 percent of our respondents who classified themselves as ‘professionals’ (mostly lawyers and doctors) differed markedly from the others. … Professionals were particularly distinctive in their support for environmental protection, for action against climate change, and for economic aid abroad. They were also more supportive than others of certain social welfare programs and progressive taxation. Most notably, professionals tilted distinctly in the direction of more regulation rather than less regulation of various industries.” To put it simply: they were far less likely to be psychopaths – less likely to be interested only in “What’s in it for me?”

“About twice as many of our respondents considered themselves Republicans … as considered themselves Democrats.”

So: for the first time ever, the attitudinal profile of the aristocracy, as compared to the public, is now known, via the first scientific study of it.

These authors explained why it was so difficult to achieve a study of this topic: “It is extremely difficult to identify and interview a representative sample of wealthy Americans. … Even their gatekeepers have gatekeepers. It can take months of intensive efforts, pestering staffers and pursuing potential respondents to multiple homes, businesses and vacation spots, just to make contact. … Our success resulted from special efforts. We employed highly talented and persuasive interviewers.”

In two previous articles, “Studies Find that Conservatives Are Bad People, And That Successful People Tend to Be Bad,” and “The Rich and Educated Believe Wealth Correlates With Virtue, Says Study,” I summarized and linked to nine different research-reports in the social-psychological literature that have produced remarkably similar findings to the findings in this political-science survey.

I have not been able to find any studies, in any field, that report contrary results to these.

All studies of which I am aware have found that wealth tends to correlate with psychopathy: the rich tend to be much more psychopathic (self-interested at the expense of the public) than the rest of the population; and the richer one is, the more psychopathic one will tend to be.

The richest tend to be the greediest. Surprise!

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Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity

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