According to the pilot study—directed by scholars at Northwestern and Vanderbilt universities—87 percent of the wealthy say that budget deficits are a "very important" problem facing the United States, putting deficits at the very top of a list of 12 potential problems.
About one-third of the wealthy call deficits or excessive government spending the most pressing problem facing the country, much more than any other problem. In contrast, only 7 percent of the general public mentions deficits or the national debt as the most important problem facing the country; more than 50 percent cite the economy and jobs.
What's more, the wealthy tilt toward cutting back—rather than expanding—federal government programs like Social Security and health care that ordinary citizens want to expand or keep the same. Overwhelming majorities of Americans oppose such cuts.
Benjamin I. Page, Gordon Scott Fulcher Professor of Decision Making in the department of political science at Northwestern and director of the study, said economic self-interest is the most straightforward explanation for why the wealthy oppose raising taxes on high incomes and favor reducing the deficit by cutting back on entitlement programs, while a majority of Americans disagree.
"These programs are of little personal benefit to wealthy people," Page said. "However, since they pay a lot of taxes, they are well aware of their costs."
An overwhelming majority of Americans oppose cuts in Social Security, and many wish to expand it. But fully 36 percent of the top 1 percent favor cutting back on Social Security, and only 3 percent of them favor expanding it.