What Drives the Public Mood of Income Inequality



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Income inequality in the United States has been growing since the 1970s. However, this economic phenomenon has not been widely discussed in public discourse until recently. Scholars suggest that income inequality has major consequences for representation and redistribution policy, however, no scholar has examined what are the driving factors behind how American public opinion is formed on income inequality. This study examines how economic factors, political factors, and media influence may potentially help form American public opinion on income inequality. With survey questions from 1971-2012, we create a public mood measure to determine how liberal or conservative the public feels towards income inequality.

The results show that the American public takes almost no cue from actual economic conditions when forming their mood towards income inequality. The party of the president is the only significant factor in what causes the public to feel more liberal or conservative towards income inequality. Cues from the president and the media have no effect on public opinion either. Even when accounting for the liberal or conservative tone of presidential rhetoric in a year, we find that the party of the president is still the only determining factor.