Americans Ambivalent about Billionaire Influence, Reject Left-Wing Hostility

New polling, recently written up at Reason, shows that the American public isn’t nearly as hostile to capitalism, and the leaders of big tech firms specifically, as is sometimes alleged. While the poll’s authors claim that Americans have become more skeptical about wealthy individuals and large corporations, they also acknowledge that current public opinion does not line up with far-left hostility to wealth and market success itself:

The data suggests that gone are the days when the ultra-wealthy could count on widespread admiration as job creators, titans of industry, and thought leaders. Now they confront a skeptical public, shaped in part by a year of the pandemic that has entrenched their power.

At the same time, Americans reject many of the farthest-left critiques of billionaires and their influence on American life.

Most poll respondents, for example, did not have a problem with the fact that some people are able to become billionaires in the first place. Around 82 percent agreed with the statement that “people should be allowed to become billionaires,” and 68 percent disagreed with the idea that “it’s immoral for a society to allow people to become billionaires.” A plurality of Americans approved of billionaire philanthropy—47 percent said that they do a good job at “giving away their money;” only a third disagreed. Just 19 percent agreed with the proposition that billionaires are “immoral.”

The pollsters also asked for respondents to give their opinion about specific, high-profile billionaires: Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates. It is not surprising to see Bill Gates, who stepped down from his role as Microsoft’s chairman in 2014 and has made a second career for himself as a philanthropist, had the highest positive rankings of any subgroup, with +55 favorability among Democrats. Recent controversy over Gates’s role in public vaccination campaigns, however, may have hurt his approval numbers with Republicans. His high net approval from Dems contrasts dramatically with his -14 from GOP respondents – by far the largest divergence by party affiliation of the four individuals covered by the poll.

The poll broke out results by party affiliation, sex, age, education level, and race, and featured some interesting differences between those groups. Black Americans, for example, generally had more positive attitudes toward billionaires than white respondents and Democrats in general. When asked whether some people being billionaires was a good or a bad thing for the country, 31 percent of Black Americans agreed that it was good, about evenly positioned between the number of Republicans (37 percent) and Democrats (24 percent) who said the same thing. Black Americans were also less likely to support raising taxes on billionaires (61 percent) than Democrats in general (68 percent) but much more likely than Republicans (36 percent).

More expected was the divergence between responses on a specifically partisan question: “President Joe Biden is too close with America’s billionaires.” Republican agreement with that statement came in at 72 percent and third party/independent voters at 51 percent. Only 20 percent of all Democrats agreed, but numbers were higher for some traditional Democratic constituencies: 29 percent of Black and 30 percent of Hispanic respondents agreed.