With the financial crisis weighing on everyone's minds, many debate whether our government's economic policies cater to the rich over the poor.
But a new study finds it would be impossible to serve only one socioeconomic group, because people's preferences tend to be overwhelmingly similar when it comes to how the federal government should spend its money.
"Even if government wanted to respond only to the interests of the rich, it couldn't, because the rich and the poor tend to share similar political viewpoints - at least on economic issues," said North Carolina State University political science researcher Chris Ellis.
Ellis and Joseph Ura, an assistant professor of political science at Texas A&M University, analyzed data from the General Social Survey on public opinion of government spending from 1973 to 2006. They found that, overall, the country would sway from being more fiscally conservative to more liberal, but that these trends occurred across all socioeconomics groups. In general, both rich and poor responded to changes in the nation's economic health, or the actions of the federal government, in broadly similar ways.
For example, the public's views of how the federal government should spend money on education, health care and the environment are similar regardless of socioeconomic level. Social issues, such as abortion, were not considered in the study.
The researchers concluded that the federal government acts on the desires of all income groups either because it can't tell the difference between the preferences of the rich versus the poor, or because politicians wish to serve the public as a whole. The study was detailed in the Oct. 3 issue of the journal Political Science and Politics.
"This does not mean that the government is actually acting in the best interests of the poor, only that what the poor want is similar to what the rich want in terms of how the government appropriates its funds," Ellis said.