Monday, August 18, 2008

Only 2% of Americans Agree with McCain's Definition of "Rich"

Back when I worked for Howard Dean, I once took a phone call from a woman who called up HQ and said she and her husband had decided that they would vote for the candidate who would give them the biggest tax cut. Dean was advocating rolling back all the Bush tax cuts, while Kerry and Edwards favored eliminating them only for those making $200K and up. So I asked the woman how much she and her husband earned. When she told me "just over $200K," I told her that she and her husband would be paying exactly the same under all the candidates' proposals. I also mentioned that her joint earnings with her husband put them among the top 2% in the country. She responded angrily that that couldn't possibly be so, insisting that they had a mortgage, that they struggled, and how dare I insinuate that they were well off.

From their own perspective, to be sure, they may well have been having to watch their budget if had say, a $5,000/month mortgage and a couple kids in a private college. But for most Americans--not to mention the overwhelming mass of the world's billions--$200K per year seems like more money than they would know what to do with.

I thought of this incident after seeing the brouhaha over McCain's declaration that the definition of being "rich" is an income level of $5 million. Obama poked fun at his response today, saying that by McCain's standards, making $3 million must make you middle class.

A Gallup poll in 2003 asked people for their definitions of "rich," in terms of both assets and income. The median answers were $1 million in assets or an income of $122,000, with lower figures for those making less. According to the poll, only 2% of Americans agree with McCain that you need an income of $5 million to be "rich."

McCain may have been half-joking, but after three nearly three decades of living off his wife's hundreds of millions of dollars, and flying around on her private jet between with their eight houses, he probably can't imagine living on just a few million.

More from Ezra on this here.

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