Reality bites: Canadians vastly underestimate wealth gap, want more balance

Canada's wealth gap is far greater than most people assume and the numbers point to all things being unequal.

A new landmark report from the Broadbent Institute reveals that Canadians vastly understimate the wealth gap in Canada. Ed Broadbent himself explains in this video:

 

 

While most Canadians (86%) think the gap between rich and poor is a problem, there is a major gulf between what Canadians believe the country's wealth distribution is, what they think the ideal should be, and the current reality on the ground.

The middle 60% of Canadians only hold 32.7% of the nation's wealth, while the majority of those polled would like to see a healthy middle class sharing roughly 60% of the wealth. The bottom 40% of the population lays claim to 2.2% of the wealth -- roughly 23% less than people believe is ideal.

Meanwhile, the rich (top 20% of the population) possess 67.4% of the nation's wealth -- roughly 37% more than Canadians believe is ideal.

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While respondents felt that the distribution of wealth in Canada is unfair, their estimates of current disparity levels fell far short of the true gulf. The contrast can be seen here:

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Nearly three in four Canadians believe that government can do something to reduce the wealth gap, making it a viable issue during the 2015 federal election.

Concern over wealth disparity crossed party lines. Overall, 86% of Canadians think the gap is a problem, including 74% of Conservative voters.

Other survey highlights:

  • The support for fairer distribution crosses all party lines, including those who voted Conservative in 2011. Four out of five (80%) say the gap between the rich and everybody else has increased over the last 10 years, including 76% who voted Tory in the 2011 election. 
  • When asked if they think government policies and programs can do something to reduce the gap, three in four (73%) Canadians believe government can do something to reduce it.
  • Canadians of all political stripes are supportive of progressive policy options to reduce the gap, including 80% who back increasing the federal income tax rate on the highest income tax bracket and 83% supporting the idea of political parties taking a public pledge not to introduce any tax cut that may increase the gap.  
  • Canadians think the wealthiest fifth — or top 20% — of Canadians hold more than half of the wealth in the country (55.5%) and that the poorest fifth — or bottom 20% — hold less than 6%. In actuality, the wealthiest hold more than two-thirds (67.4%) of the wealth, while the poorest fifth of Canadians own no share at all.
  • Canadians think that the wealthiest 20% should hold only 30.3% of all the wealth and that the poorest fifth should hold 11.5%. 

The survey was conducted for the Institute by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Canada.

A project of the Broadbent Institute