Not only do most voters have little idea of what an "average" wage is in reality, they also find it difficult to see the link between taxation and their local public servicesby Jade Azim / June 17, 2019 / Leave a comment
The Conservative candidates in this leadership campaign have seemingly competed, not just on how hard their Brexit stance can be, but on how far they can go to give tax cuts to the rich. Except that, to them, the rich are merely middle class.
Various candidates have called for regressive tax cuts for this imagined middle class. Boris Johnson’s pledge to cut taxes for those earning over £60,000 by raising the 40 per cent tax rate threshold to £80,000 was pitched as a gift for the hard-working middle classes. The median wage in the UK is just £28,400.
Conservative politicians have been redefining class for the sake of higher earner tax cuts for years and across successive governments and budgets. George Osborne mastered the ability of painting his generous giveaways to the wealthy as for the aspirant “white van man.” Why do they get away with it, with seemingly so little damage?
There are two answers to this question: misperceptions of the median voter, and of social mobility.
Politicians can redefine the median earner to mean well over the average because perceptions in the wider population are skewed. Studies have shown workers consider ‘wealthy’ to be well above even the £60,000 earner that would benefit from the Boris tax cuts, and that ‘rich’ is often a distant concept.
A survey in 2017 by salary site Emolument, for instance, found that professional workers do not feel “wealthy” until they earn at least £370,000. Early career professionals wouldn’t feel “wealthy” until earning £93,000.
Why few people think they’re average
Median voters’ preferences are often not predicated on a wider context of themselves as a median in an unjust system. Scholar Larry Bartels in a 2005 study on why people in the US supported Bush’s 2003 tax cuts, despite 55 per cent of respondents agreeing that they benefited the rich, is a good example of this phenomenon.
They did so, Bartel suggests, because the wider picture of inequality did not factor into their preferences: “Support for the Bush tax cuts was strongly shaped by people’s attitudes about their own tax burdens, but virtually unaffected by their attitudes about the tax burden of the rich.”
Perceptions of inequality itself, Bartel found, are determined…