Billionaires: Love 'em or hate 'em?

New poll reveals that people have conflicting opinions of the super-rich

Billionaires: Love 'em or hate 'em?
Steve Randall

Billionaires are a rare breed with just 3,311 globally according to recent data. But what do people think of them?

That’s the core question put by The Harris Poll to American poll participants, who revealed an interesting but conflicting opinion of the richest in society.

For a country known for the high value it puts on success, growing annoyance at wealth inequality perhaps explains the paradox that 6 in 10 American adults say billionaires are good for society, innovation, and the economy; 40% say they despise them.   

Six in ten respondents want to be a billionaire one day and 44% believe they have the tools to achieve that, rising to 71% among cryptocurrency investors.

But 70% think that billionaires have a responsibility to better society but are not doing enough to do so. Half would back mandatory philanthropic donations.

Nearly half of those taking part in the poll felt that billionaires make it harder to achieve the American dream, especially for younger people and those from diverse backgrounds.

"The self-made journey of wealth accumulation has always been foundational to the American dream, once with millionaires and now billionaires," said Libby Rodney, futurist and chief strategy officer at The Harris Poll Thought Leadership Practice. "From an individual point of view, many Americans still want to become billionaires, but from a collective sensibility, the story is shifting as billionaires are being painted as a barrier to Americans achieving their personal dreams, while economic inequality grows to a national crisis point."

Wealth cap?

Asked about taxes, 65% of respondents said billionaires do not pay enough, a similar share would tax them more. However, one third don’t think people should be taxed differently because of wealth.

A significant share of people would cap wealth at under US$1 billion (24%) and 20% would limit wealth to between $1 billion and $10 billion.

"As our society continues to grow in two different directions, with the middle class disappearing, Americans are having a reckoning with wealth accumulation," Rodney said. "Everyone wants wealth, but the idea now is that once you have it, you are now expected by the rest of society to act responsibly with it and leverage it for the good of the society."