Americans think rich are smarter but greedier

A new poll finds we're OK with how the wealthy got wealthy. We just want them to pay more in taxes.

By MSNMoney partner Aug 28, 2012 10:34AM
CNBC logoRobert Frank, CNBC

The presidential campaign has given us two opposing stereotypes of the wealthy, neither of which reflects the actual views of most American voters.

Republicans say that the rich are hard-working job creators who are admired — and even saluted — by their fellow Americans. They say Americans don't want to tax success and engage in wealth spreading.

Democrats say the rich didn't make it on their own and can be heartless and uncharitable. They say Americans want the rich to pay their fair share and want to shrink the growing wealth gap.

A new poll on wealth from Pew Research, however, reveals that this black-and-white view of the rich doesn't reflect the shades of gray with which most Americans view the rich.

The Pew poll finds that more 80 percent of self-described middle-class and lower-class Americans say they admire people who get rich by working hard. Four in 10 Americans say the wealthy are more likely to be intelligent (that compares to 8 percent who say they are less likely to be intelligent).

At the same time, 55 percent say the wealthy are more greedy and 34 percent say the wealthy are less likely to be honest (compared to 12 percent who say they are more honest).

A majority of adults (58 percent) say that upper-income people pay too little in federal taxes. One in four (26 percent) say upper-income people pay their fair share in taxes, and 8 percent say they pay too much in taxes.

More than six in 10 Americans (63 percent) say the GOP favors the rich over the middle class and poor, and 71 percent believe the policies of a President Mitt Romney would be good for wealthy people.

When it comes to President Barack Obama, more say his policies will help the poor (60 percent) than say they will help the middle class (50 percent) or the wealthy (37 percent). By contrast, just 31 percent say Romney’s policies would help the poor and 40 percent say they would help the middle class.

There are some critical partisan differences in the data — especially around taxes. More than four in 10 Republicans say upper-income people pay either their fair share of taxes or too much (14 percent). Among Democrats, 78 percent say upper-income people pay too little in taxes, while 13 percent say upper-income people pay their fair share.

A majority of both groups, however, say the middle class pays its fair share.

The poll shows that the upper-income groups are happier, healthier and doing better financially that most Americans. About four in 10 upper-class adults say they are in better shape now than they were before the recession (learn more). That compares with about four in ten middle-class adults who say they are in worse financial shape.

My takeaway from the poll is that Americans generally have a favorable view of how the wealthy got wealthy. But they still want the wealthy to pay more. That's a nuance that we're unlikely to hear from either party this election.

More from CNBC
Aug 28, 2012 12:37PM
A lot of "clever" sociopaths out there. Take away any regulation and watch them go. Whoo hoo!
Quite a few people thought Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay, and Jeff Skillings (to name just a few) were pretty bright guys. A little smarts and no conscience can make you a lot of dough.  I'm just sayin'.

Aug 30, 2012 9:31AM
By the way, I don't have a problem people who are wealthy if they made their money with honest hard work, dedication,  luck, or even if they were born into it, as long as those born into wealth maintain a reverence for their success and fortune, and don't use their wealth in ways that hinder the lifestyles of others less fortunate.
Aug 30, 2012 9:17AM
Greedier, yes... smarter, no.
More conniving, yes (in general).

If intelligence was a measure of wealth, then scientists, mathematicians, and engineers would likely be more wealthy than those on Wall Street and in the finance industry.

And I am NOT OK with anyone who makes their wealth at the expense of the misfortune of others.

Aug 29, 2012 5:21PM
What's this nonsense about the wealthy "earning" it? More people INHERIT millions that they did nothing to earn, than actually create their own wealth from the bottom up. The Bill Gates' of the world are extremely rare. Most wealth was created long ago and has more or less remained "in the family". Those talking about what the founders "intended" should realize that they certainly never intended for Lobbyists to control Congress, they never intended for Congress to shirk their currency printing duties and they most certainly never intended the Office of President to be available only to the rich.

I've never bought a lottery ticket in my life. I don't use credit cards. I do not care to own things I don't have cash to pay for. I also recognize that the system we have in place is DESIGNED to prevent the vast majority of people who buy into it, from ever getting ahead. Your money is MEANT to go to people who already have plenty of it. And then you are told that you are lazy and didn't work as hard as those patriotic, hard-working rich folks. Some of the poor among you even spout this nonsense because that's how deep the brain-washing goes.

Hard work is valuable- but to pretend that it's the path to success in this country is a farce. No one works harder than the millions of people at the bottom holding low-wage full-time jobs only to put themselves in debt they will never crawl out of to have basic necessities like a place to live, food on the table and transportation to and from work. THOSE people deserve kudos and respect. Not the spoiled, rotten-hearted landed gentry of this country.

Aug 28, 2012 3:29PM
I think people are confusing cunning with intelligence.
Aug 30, 2012 9:27AM
Kevin Mellyn -

So, do you think it's okay for the wealthiest people in our country, people like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson to use their wealth to essentially buy our government and to have lobbyists in their pockets in order to create government policy that fits THEIR desires rather than what is best for the majority of Americans?

Should they alone, as private individuals, have the right to decide who is the Republican candidate?

Aug 30, 2012 9:39AM
So, by Kevin Mellyn's idea of the election process, because there are fewer wealthy people, there must be a way to dampen or silence the poor people's vote.

Why should we hold elections at all if only the wealthy should have a voice in government?

Aug 28, 2012 6:01PM
This is all a bit like Pew asking the turkey about the best menu for Thanksgiving (Eat Beef). There is a huge moral hazard (economic speak for perverse incentives) when taxpayers are few and tax eaters (those who work for or are dependent on the government) are many. The American Revolution was based in large part on the principle of "no taxation without representation" based on the traditional  linkage between representation in Parliament and the right of Parliament to levy taxes. Equally there should be "no representation without taxation" . Otherwise the act of voting  becomes a way for the lower income and asset poor majority to essentially confiscate the labor and goods of the more fortunate, however acquired, out of greed (at all times and places the poor are as greedy as the rich) and jealousy.

 Fundamentally the people who pay for government are the only people who should be represented  and equally lack of representation removes the duty to provide revenue to the state. We have been moving in the opposite direction since Jackson created the Democratic party and are now at a tipping point. Roughly half the population pays no Federal Income Tax (or actually get subsidies through the tax code) and an equally large percentage get a proportion of their income from the government. The "rich" however defined pay an overwhelming portion of the Income tax. A similar situation exists in European welfare states which are collapsing under the burden of dependency.

The great English legal scholar A V Dicey saw this all coming with the extension of the franchise to working class Britons the the early 1900's. Mass democracy will always lead to more and more socialist legislation as demagogs buy the votes of many with the taxes of the few until the goose runs out of eggs (See Greece, California etc.). The answer is simple but we are too latein the world to adopt it. Anyone who is a net taxpayer (ie they pay more in income tax than they get from the Federal government) by even one penny gets to vote in Federal elections. There can be a special franchise for the military and combat veterans as in ancient Greece but the iron rules is that those that live off the state (including above all public workers) have a fundamental and disqualifying conflict of interest in voting. Rich people who live off tax free income would be equally bared from representation and/or contributing to political campaigns. Anyone could keep the vote by refusing state assistance or leaving state employment or by paying a voluntary levy that would render them a net taxpayer. If those who paid for the state were the only ones who got to vote we would not have the sea of red ink that threatens to sink the republic.

Aug 28, 2012 2:21PM

For being "job-creators" they sure aren't creating a heck of a lot of jobs.  How about their tax rates get cut in proportion with the unemployment rate, eh?



Aug 28, 2012 4:24PM

A majority of Americans think somebody else should be paying more taxes.  Wow, what a stunning revelation.


"Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree."

Aug 30, 2012 8:04AM
The rich are just smart enough to use other peoples ideas and hard work to make them successful, in the beginning they are very happy to share the riches and then they get greedy caused by their fear of losing it all, the rich started out taking big chances to get there and then they become fearful cowards and thus greed and corruption sets in. They then drag the brightest and best down the road of greed and corruption with them and you do see the mess we are all in this day and time.
Aug 30, 2012 9:46AM
The top richest 400 hundred people in America have more wealth than the bottom HALF of America -  more than 150 MILLION people combined. We have the most unequal distribution of wealth since the 1920s.

The 6 heirs to the WalMart fortune, 1 family, owns more wealth than the bottom 30 percent of American people combined. 1 family has more wealth than 90 MILLION Americans combined!

The Top 1% have more than 40 percent of America's wealth.
The bottom 60% of Americans has LESS THAN 2% of the wealth.
The bottom 40% of Americans have less than 3/10ths of 1% of the wealth IN AMERICA.
Aug 30, 2012 1:37PM
If greedy means hating the poor while acting Christian, owning guns out of fear and anger, instead of following Jesus, refusing to help the sick unlike the Good Samaritan, cheating on taxes and refusing to pay back what was stolen unlike the tax collector who confessed and recompensed, if rich means all that, if greedy means having a sociopath's conscience, or at best, as Mark Twain put it about "charity," that it was "taking from the poor and giving it to the rich," then the rich are greedy and contemptible.  Buying elections, hoarding wealth as if they could stuff their mouths with it and take it to their deaths, all this is what makes America a worse off nation.  Oh, and by the way, they did NOT make the infrastructure that enables them to thrive.  Any Republican who thinks he only made it is a narcissist and a sociopath.  Don't believe me?  Go to a third world nation and see how the rich live behind walls and bars and dogs and guards, where electricity is inconsistent, where corrpution is endemic.  Jesus will say to these bloated greedy, "I knew ye not," and cast them to the everlasting fire.
Aug 29, 2012 10:06PM

Since we have 30+ years of failed trickle down economics, here's my tax rate solution. It will be based upon the census nation average income at the most current point ($32,000/year right now) and it will be flexible to rises and falls of that average with no deductions at all. These are the rates you pay at each tier. so if you earned $64,000, $32,000 is at 2% ($640) and $32,000 is at 4% ($1280) for a total of $1920/year.


1. $0 to the Average - 2%

2. Avg * 2 - 4%

3. Avg * 5 - 8%

4. Avg * 10 - 20%

5. Avg * 100 - 50%

6. Avg * 250 - 90%


The Social Security cap is to be removed and will require all earned income to pay into the system thus, the gap in money going into the system is removed.


That means after 3.2 million per year, the tax penalty is quite steep and will give us a New, "New Deal" solution much in the way that FDR gave us that eventually spurred the greatest time period of development and quality of living increases in history. This version is flexible however in comparison to the original rigid figures that were used and cannot be manipulated through hyper inflation or deflation.

Aug 30, 2012 2:27AM
The rich have the right to spend their money anyway they choose.  I feel that the lower social class doesn't pay their fair share.  With all the credits they can get more back in a refund than they paid.  Everyone needs to pay some in.  Munches need to get off their asses and go to work.  
Aug 30, 2012 2:06PM

FACT! the wealthy don't care about the poor


they just want to get wealthier.

Aug 29, 2012 3:02PM
Those that complain about the wealthy being wealthy are the ones buying lotto tickets or charging everything on a credit card so they can get those bonus points...  Or don't save any money because they think there is a big pile of money waiting for them when they retire...  And don't have a bank account because they think if the bank gets robbed all their money is gone, yet they do not know what FDIC insurence is for, and....
Aug 28, 2012 11:21AM
According to the latest info, the bottom 50%, income of $34,251 or less, of the 2009 individual returns filed earned 13% of the income and paid 2% of the total federal individual income tax. While the top 10%, income earners of $112,124 or greater, earned 43% of the income and paid 71% of the tax bill. Of interest, 98% of the bottom 50% paid zero federal income tax for 2009.
Aug 28, 2012 12:39PM
Shouldn't people that live off others who have earned their wealth be considered greedy also, in that they are receiving something for nothing? Do you believe ALL profit is just greed? If you believe that, then you would have prospered in the Deutsche Demokratische Republik.
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.




Quotes delayed at least 15 min
Sponsored by:


There’s a problem getting this information right now. Please try again later.
There’s a problem getting this information right now. Please try again later.
Market index data delayed by 15 minutes

[BRIEFING.COM] The stock market welcomed the new trading week with a mixed session that saw relative strength among large-cap stocks, while high-beta names underperformed. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (+0.3%) and S&P 500 (-0.1%) finished near their flat lines, while the Nasdaq Composite and Russell 2000 both lost 1.1%.

Equities began the day on a cautious note amid continued concerns regarding the strength of the global economy. Over the weekend, China reported its first decline ... More


There’s a problem getting this information right now. Please try again later.