Nearly half of Americans; 48%, support a “universal basic income” (UBI), a Northwestern University/Gallup poll indicates. The same survey found that a majority of US residents; 52%, still oppose basic income.
Support for basic income varied widely; but was surprisingly high among some groups, the poll results indicate. The poll did not define basic income; or say how much would be paid out, but did state it would be given to workers whose jobs were lost to artificial intelligence (AI).
The most telling result of the poll was that Americans are deeply divided on the issue of UBI. These divisions give us a glimpse of possible political battles over the issue in the near future.
Americans Deeply Divided on Basic Income
Attitudes toward basic income vary widely and reflect wider political divisions in the society. Highlights of the mail survey of 3,297 people between 15 September and 10 October 2017 include:
- Women were more receptive to the idea of UBI than men. Around 52% of women supported a basic income.
- Universal Basic Income will be a tough sell to American men. 57% of the males surveyed opposed it.
- Younger people are more supportive of UBI. Around 54% of those between 18 and 35 approved of basic income.
- A majority of Millennials (persons 21 to 36) and Generation X (those aged 37 to 51) supported a basic income. 54% of those 18 to 35 and 50% of persons aged 36 to 50 supported UBI.
- Baby Boomers (Those 52 to 72 years of age) opposed UBI. 54% of persons of 51 to 65 and 62% of those over 66 opposed basic income.
- Those Americans already receiving a form of basic income (Social Security) seniors; were the most likely to oppose a UBI scheme. Only 38% of people over 66 supported basic income. One reason for this is they might be afraid that Social Security funds would be redirected to UBI.
- The less education a person had the more likely he or she was to support universal basic income. More than half of persons with less than a bachelor’s degree; 51%, supported UBI. Nearly 60% of those with a bachelor degree or higher; 58%, opposed basic income.
- Democrats strongly favor Basic Income. 65% of the persons who identified with that party supported UBI.
- Republicans are strongly opposed to UBI. 72% of the members of the GOP surveyed were against the idea.
- Both parties are deeply are divided on the issue. Around 28% of Republicans supported UBI, while 35% of Democrats opposed the concept.
- Even Americans that like the idea of UBI do not want to pay for it. Only 46% of Americans said they would pay higher personal taxes to pay for basic income. 54% of American said they did not want higher taxes for UBI.
- Women like UBI but hate the idea of paying for it. Only 43% of the women surveyed said they wanted to pay higher taxes to support a basic income scheme. Around 57% of the women surveyed opposed paying higher taxes for basic income.
- Working class people see UBI as a means of wealth distribution. Only 38% of those with less than a bachelor’s degree said they would be willing to pay higher personal taxes to support a basic income.
- Educated Americans support the idea of wealth distribution. Around 64% of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher supported higher taxes to finance a UBI.
Some important criteria, including race, occupation, religion, and class were missing from the poll. The survey would have been far more valuable if we knew how whites, African Americans, Hispanics, Catholics, Agnostics, Atheists, and Evangelicals felt about UBI. Hopefully, somebody, probably our friends at Pew, will do such a survey in the near future.
Looming Class War in America
The survey points to looming class warfare in America. Americans with college degrees; who are likely to be in the middle or upper class, oppose UBI. Those without college degrees; who are more likely to be working class, favor it.
There is also a nasty generation gap here that is likely to grow as the numbers of Baby Boomers shrinks and the number of Millennials and Generation Z (those under 21) people grows. A contributing factor will be fears about retirement, a Bankrate.com survey indicates that 65% of Americans have saved little or nothing for retirement, CNBC reported. That will increase support for UBI among younger people and grow Social Security anxieties for their elders.
An interesting feature was the support women had for the concept. One reason for this might be that many ladies want to stay home with their kids and think UBI might make that possible.
UBI may soon become a Political Issue in the USA
Cultural conservatives are likely to seize upon that notion. That points to a looming rift between cultural conservatives and libertarians and fiscal conservatives; which is likely to blow the Republican coalition apart.
The Gallup data shows us that the U.S. political parties have starkly different worldviews, and that compromise between them will be far more difficult than the talk show pundits believe. Those differences are likely to increase in the years ahead; as issues like UBI come to the forefront of the political debate.
Universal basic income is likely to become an issue in American politics sooner than many people think because support for it is growing fast. Polls indicated that just 12% of Americans supported UBI around 10 years ago, political philosopher and economist Karl Widerquist told CNBC.