It would be easy to read the current election climate as a turn toward populism.
The President is once again calling for all for higher taxes on the wealthy and criticizing his super-rich opponent. Pundits increasingly blame Romney’s lagging poll numbers on voter attitudes toward his large wealth and privilege.
Add to that the daily scandals on Wall Street and business and you’d think Americans' feelings toward the wealthy were harkening back to the pitchfork days of the 1930s.
But polls and surveys show that Americans attitude toward the rich hasn’t really changed much over the years. Most Americans still have positive views of the wealthy and hope to become rich one day themselves.
A new survey from GlobeScan shows that 58 percent of Americans agree with the statement that “the rich deserve their wealth.” That’s actually higher than it was in 2008, before the economic crisis, Wall Street bailouts and the Occupy movement.
Americans remain among the most wealth-friendly in the world, ranking third when it comes to their votes on the deserving rich (only Australia and Canada are higher).
An earlier Gallup poll showed that the number of Americans who want inequality to be “fixed” has declined since 1998. In 1998, 52 percent of Americans wanted the gap between rich and poor to be fixed. Today 48 percent say so.
A majority of Americans said that inequality is “an acceptable part of our economic system,” a number that has also increased since the late 1990s.
Yet another recent Gallup poll showed that the percentage of Americans who say the wealthy pay too little in taxes has actually gone down in the same time period.
As Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center wrote: “People don’t necessarily want to take money from the wealthy; they just want a better chance to get rich themselves. They care about policies that give everyone a fair shot — a distinction that candidates in both parties should understand as they head into the 2012 campaigns.”
Do you think Americans have a more negative view of the wealthy today than 10 years ago?
-By CNBC's Robert Frank
Follow Robert Frank on Twitter: @robtfrank