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When voters these days say they want politicians to improve the economy, what do they mean by that? It might surprise you that in Massachusetts, it doesn't mean to grow the economy as much as possible. According to a new WBUR poll (topline results, crosstabs), right now it means slicing the economy up differently.
Registered voters across the state were asked whether Gov. Charlie Baker should grow the economy as much as possible, even if it means some groups gain more than others, or whether the governor should make sure economic gains are shared more evenly, even if it means slower growth.
"It’s not just about who can maximize the amount of growth and make more stuff and increase GDP by the highest number of percentage points," explained Steve Koczela with The MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the survey for WBUR. "In this poll, it shows that more people would prefer to see more even gains, rather than just more gains."
A majority of voters — 57 percent — said Baker should ensure "economic gains are distributed more evenly between groups, even if it means slower economic growth overall," compared to 33 percent who said he should grow the economy "as much as possible, even if it means some groups gain more than others." The statewide poll of 502 registered voters has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.
Poll respondent Susan O’Connor, a 43-year-old stay-at-home mom in Newburyport, says the rich can afford to share more of their economic gains.
"They’re the ones that can afford the taxes. They’re the ones that choose the lifestyle that they’re in," O'Connor said. "The lower-to-middle-income people don’t choose the life they’re in. They do their best to survive."
O’Connor’s husband paints houses. They rent a house from his family. Otherwise, O’Connor says, they’d be on hard times.
"We make less than $30,000 a year. And technically we qualify for food stamps and all that stuff. But I refuse to take them, because I think there’s other people that need them more than we do," she said.
Her conviction may be stronger than most, but the poll shows that this progressive streak runs across Massachusetts.
Koczela says you would think that different demographic groups would take the trade-off between economic growth and equality differently, but you’d be wrong.
"That’s really not what you see," he said. "You see pretty much across the board the same level of preference for more even gains rather than just higher growth overall."
Despite the desire for more equitable growth, those polled don’t expect it.
"I don’t really sense optimism on this," said Linda Mason, a 59-year-old high school teacher from Clinton. "I don’t see any signs that it’s going to improve anyway soon."
A similar question was asked in a WBUR tracking poll in the run-up to the 2014 election, and a plurality of voters, 49 percent, said they'd sacrifice some economic growth in the name of equality.
In the new poll, 8 out of 10 poll respondents think income inequality in Massachusetts is going to either stay the same or get worse in the next decade. And they say that despite not having a good sense of where the state ranks, 57 percent of respondents said they thought the income gap here was about average or smaller than the gap in other states.
Koczela says that's not true. "Income inequality in Massachusetts is worse than it is in other states," he said. "And income inequality in Boston is worse than it is in most other large cities."
So would Massachusetts voters want Gov. Baker to make income equality policies even more of a priority if they knew where the state stood? It’s not clear.
"People won’t oppose it if you want to do something about them as a leader, but it’s also not something that’s going to bring people to your door with pitchforks and torches," Koczela said.
At least not yet.
This segment aired on June 15, 2015.
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