A surprising new CNBC survey released Tuesday found significant support among the rich for higher taxes on the wealthy and raising the minimum wage—nearly two-thirds of respondents, all of them worth at least $1 million, back both policies. Some liberals found the results encouraging. “If millionaires support an increase in the minimum wage," wrote ThinkProgress's Bryce Covert, "that might give life to the push by President Obama and Congressional Democrats to raise it to $10.10 an hour, which was recently quashed by Republicans in the Senate.”
Not so fast. When it comes to politics, millionaires are just as ideological as the rest of America. This poll proves it—you just have to look closer.
It’s difficult to collect a representative sample of the rich because there are fewer of them among the population, they respond more infrequently, and it's expensive to find them. The CNBC survey, which was conducted by the Spectrem Group in March, polled 514 people with “investable assets of $1 million or more" and has a margin of error of 4.3 percent. Here are the top line results:
Surprising, right? The conventional wisdom is that even if some high-income Americans like Warren Buffet support higher taxes on themselves, the majority want to lower their tax rate. But if the rich are widely willing to pay more in taxes, what are we waiting for?
The problem lies in the survey itself. “Democratic millionaires are far more supportive of taxing the rich and raising the minimum wage," CNBC reports. "Among Democratic millionaires, 78 percent support higher taxes on the wealthy, and 77 percent back a higher minimum wage. That compares with 31 percent and 38 percent, respectively, for Republicans.”
This is the fatal flaw in the poll: It’s skewed Democratically. We can’t determine the numbers precisely, but if 78 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of Republicans support higher taxes on the wealthy, then for 64 percent of all respondents to support higher taxes on the rich, there must be significantly more Democrats than Republicans in the survey.
If the rich tended to vote for Democratic candidates more than Republican ones, this could be okay. But that’s not true either. In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney received 54 percent of the vote among people with total family incomes of $100,000 or more. President Barack Obama won just 44 percent. Sorry, liberals: The poll’s main findings are the result of an unrepresentative sample, not a watershed moment where the rich widely support higher taxes on themselves.
Danny Vinik is a staff writer at The New Republic.