According to the presumable Republican nominee for President Mitt Romney, concerns about wealth and income distribution disparities in America are the result of envy; they occur because 'average' people are envious of wealthy people. Romney has also suggested concerns about income inequality should be discussed in "quiet rooms", but shouldn't be discussed in political campaigns:
QUESTIONER: Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?
ROMNEY: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail. link
But to that point, recent research by Dan Ariely and Michael Norton would appear to contradict Romney's assertion. As one can see from the chart, Americans didn't seem to be all that 'envious'. The "ideal" income distribution identified by people polled didn't pan out as equal distribution amongst the five quintiles of earners. In fact, people polled essentially indicated a belief that the top 20% quintile should have 50% more of the wealth than their population represents (a little over 30% of the wealth). The two middle quintiles also would see a larger percentage of the wealth than their population represents. And finally, the bottom two quintiles would have LESS of the wealth than their population represents. Further, the bottom quintile would have almost 50% less than their population represents (20% of the population versus 11% of the wealth).
On it's face, that doesn't seem much like envy. There's a general acknowledgment across all quintiles polled that the ideal wealth distribution would indeed be slanted some degree toward the top. But, that's not even the most interesting part of the poll. The middle bar in the graph indicates what those same people believed the income distribution in America is..... the top bar represents what it ACTUALLY is. Not only is the actuality of wealth disparity not remotely close to what people would consider ideal, it's not remotely close to what people think it actually is.
How does this disconnect occur? How can the average American be so very ill-informed on this issue? Perhaps, it has something to do with media blitzes like this: "Does the Democratic Party Hate The Rich?". Or, like this:"Is Washington's 'War on Wealth' working? Or, like the hundreds of articles, stories, and videos of various politicians, pundits, and media personalities acting as if wealth and income inequality isn't an issue at all.
Interestingly enough though, even the target audience who buys these type of misdirective media blitzes doesn't actually seem to believe what they think they believe, according to the second piece of Nortion and Ariely's study. That piece of the study included three pie charts of various wealth distribution breakdowns within five quintiles (see graphic on right). One chart was an even split - 20% of the wealth for each of the five quintiles. One chart was Sweden's wealth distribution - not remotely even, but not nearly as lopsided as America. Then, the last chart was America's. People weren't shown the names of the countries, but were asked which country they'd most like to live in based on wealth distribution they were shown. 92% of Americans picked Sweden over the United States (That's actually not surprising, because Sweden's wealth distribution was pretty close to what people identified as their ideal wealth distribution breakdown).
Upon hearing this, one may posit "Perhaps there was a partisan divide in the responses?" Not so much. 93% of Democrats picked Sweden's model over America's (of course, without knowing it was Sweden's). 90% of Republicans did the same. Apparently, Republicans aren't even buying their own propaganda regarding wealth distribution.
One last interesting piece of the study cited: of the people polled who earned more than 100K per year - they felt that the top 20% quintile should have below 40% of the wealth.
Across all spectrums, political and economic, Americans seem to generally agree on an ideal level of wealth distribution. That ideal distribution isn't a utopian equality across all wealth quintiles. But, it's substantially more balanced than what the United States currently has. Of course, the problem lies in the fact that Americans have been GROSSLY misinformed on just what the wealth distribution is in America. And thus, it's going to be hard to rally support for change when a vast majority of Americans don't know that change is needed in order to reach what it is that they desire.
Perhaps when the country can move closer to what the people say they want, we'll be closer to getting what we need. And perhaps that process would be less excruciating if the barrage of misinformation would cease just long enough for the contextual facts to get a word in edgewise.