Lots of Americans, apparently:
A Time Magazine poll in 2000 found that 19 percent of those surveyed believed themselves to be among the richest 1 percent of Americans. Another 20 percent said they expected to one day be among the richest 1 percent.
But as Citizens for Tax Justice estimates, “This year, the best-off one percent will have an estimated average income of $1.5 million each. Just to get into this elite group requires an income greater than $466,000.” And the middle class of, say, ABC debate moderator Charlie Gibson is also pretty expansive–it includes people with adjusted gross income over $250,000, though CTJ notes that only about 2% of taxpayers fit that category.
Consider Tuesday’s oral arguments over the so-called Millionaires’ Amendment, the federal law that lifts some political fundraising limits for candidates facing wealthy self-funded opponents, defined as those who pour at least $350,000 of their own cash into their campaign.
Justice Antonin Scalia suggested that practically anybody had that cash available for political activism, if he or she really wanted to tap some family assets. “Are we talking wealthy people here? What’s the average price of a home in the United States? I think it’s a good deal above $350,000, isn’t it?” he said.
Actually, it’s nowhere near that. According to provisional figures from the National Association of Realtors, the average single family home price last month was $246,000. And falling.
As I noted two years ago, even the assumption that everyone has $200 to spare for a political campaign is pretty objectionable. And it is downright nonsensical to deny that donating $200 “hurts” a poor family far more than one with disposable income to spare (just think of the parable of the widow’s mite). The legitimacy of our current “dollar primary” politics probably rests in large part on the erroneous perception of 38% of the population that they are (or someday will be) in the top 1% of earners.
UPDATE: Given my title, I should note that about 3% of the US population are millionaires (i.e., have assets over and above principal residence that are worth over a million dollars). Nevertheless, given that the median net worth of the top 10% in the U.S. was $833,600 in 2001, and that of the bottom ten percent was below $7,900, Americans live in very different economic worlds.