Economy, Misc, Politics, Spring 2014 Articles

Plurality of NCSU Students Can Identify US Wealth Distribution Although Very Few Prefer It

Each semester we run a “big poll” consisting of 35-45 questions. This year’s “big” poll contained topics ranging from the NSA , to climate change, and an all-important survey on Eastern NC BBQ vs. Western NC BBQ. (Eastern won in a landslide, much to my dismay.)

As part of this survey, students were shown pie charts indicating variation in wealth distributions by quintiles. Three charts were shown: one representing the current wealth distribution in the US, another representing the current wealth distribution for Norway, and a third representing an almost equal distribution of wealth. Images of the charts used in the survey are in the sidebar to the right of this post. Students were then either asked to identify which of the charts they thought belonged to the United States, or to pick a chart they felt was ideal for a country to succeed. We used a split-ballot technique to avoid allowing our questions or answers to influence student’s opinions. We felt we would get more accurate results if students randomly received one question or the other.

A plurality of NCSU students (44%)  correctly identified the chart representing the United States—something a non-representative sample of Harvard business students struggled to do.


Yet, if asked which wealth distribution was ideal for a country to succeed, just 9% of students chose the graph representing the United States. Instead, 60% of students favored the most equal distribution, while the remaining 31% favored the Norway graph. Majorities of self identified Democrats, Republicans, and Independents all chose the more equal wealth distribution as their ideal preference.  The Norway distribution was selected second most option, and the United States was a distant third.


The More Students Know, The More They Want Government To Reduce the Gap

Being able to correctly identify the wealth distribution of the United States was a predictor of student’s opinions of the role of government in reducing the income differences between the rich and poor. Students were asked to place themselves on a scale from one to seven, where “1” stood for believing “the government ought to reduce the income differences between the rich and poor” and “7” stood for the opposite.  Of those who could correctly identify the chart displaying wealth distribution in the United States, 47% of students placed themselves between 1-3 on that scale (i.e, they supported government intervention to reduce the income gap), while 36% opposed (i.e., they placed themselves between 5-7 on the scale). Of those who could not identify the United State’s graph, 35% felt the government should reduce the gap while 42% opposed government intervention.

Party ID and Minimum Wage 

Interestingly, only 50% of students surveyed said they support raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, while 35% were opposed. There were heavy partisan splits on the issue, however. Among Democrats, 73% favored raising the minimum wage, and only 12% opposed. Only 28% of Republicans answered in support, while 55% expressed opposition.

This representative survey of the NCSU undergraduate student body  ran from April 8th-11th, and has a sample size of 1,059 students. The response rate was  21%, with a margin of sampling error of +/- 2.95%.

Click on the link below to view a PDF of the results from the 2014 spring poll, including an spas file of the data. More articles will be posted in the coming weeks. Feel free to email us if you have any questions in the interim.

  Spring 2014 Poll Results (Topline Report)

One Comment

  1. What sources are you using as the basis for the U.S. income distribution graph?

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