Universal Basic Income—the idea that the government should provide every person a monthly cash allowance—has long been relegated to the realm of utopia. Even with its recent resurgence, driven in part by self-interested Silicon Valley CEOs, many still assume UBI is too expensive, too radical, and absolutely politically infeasible. In a country that restricts poor people from using food stamps for hot foods and subjects welfare recipients to drug tests, it’s hard to imagine widespread support for giving people cash, no strings attached.
But recent polling by the progressive think tank Data for Progress and YouGov Blue indicates that UBI might not be so politically far-fetched. The group conducted a survey asking over 1,500 nationally representative respondents whether they would support or oppose a policy that gave every American a monthly $1,000 check, which would be paid for by raising taxes on individuals earning more than $150,000.
The overall net response was negative 2 percent (38 percent somewhat or strongly supporting the idea versus 40 percent somewhat or strongly opposing it). But even when combined with a tax hike, giving every American $12,000 per year is significantly more popular than the Republican tax bill and polls about same as the Affordable Care Act in the year that it was passed.
Perhaps most telling is the split in opinion about UBI between working-class and wealthy Americans. For those with an annual income between $10,000 and $30,000, 47 percent support the policy, versus 24 percent who are opposed; not surprisingly, for those making more than $100,000, support drops to 27 percent, versus 59 percent opposed.
Broken down by race, black respondents support the policy by an overwhelming net 29 points; support among Latino respondents is lower, but still at a net six points. And, while white respondents overall oppose the policy, this is driven mainly by wealthy white people. The white working class (those making between $10,000 and $60,000) support UBI by a net nine points, while higher-income white respondents (those making more than $60,000) oppose the policy by a net negative 23 points—more than a 30-point difference. A similar disparity holds between lower-educated and highly educated white respondents.
To be sure, none of this has been subject to national-level debates. It’s easy to see support dropping for UBI if the policy came under Republican attacks—after all, conservatives have long employed racist dog whistles to undermine welfare programs. But the fact holds that most beneficiaries of social services are white members of the working class and, at least at the baseline, the polling shows that the working class—across racial lines—supports the idea of a basic income. It’s possible that such big redistributive ideas could eventually catch on, even in places like the Midwest where we’re often told that socialism can never take root.