Previous polling data about what’s on the public’s mind has often run together poverty and inequality, and sometimes even conflated them with housing.
So what happens when you split the three issues out, as polling firm UMR has helpfully done for the last six months and summarised below? Well, when you ask people what they think is the most important problem facing the country, about as many people say ‘housing’ as ‘poverty’ and ‘inequality’ together.
That’s no great surprise, since people in middle New Zealand don’t necessarily see poverty and inequality as affecting them directly, while the housing crisis obviously does.
It’s interesting, though, to see that income and wealth inequality is just as important to people as poverty. Various commentators would argue (or like to argue) that people only care about poverty (that is, whether some are struggling) and not about inequality (the fact that some people are richer than others). In fact, that’s not the case, which is probably because people have strong intuitions about what is just or fair when it comes to the distribution of rewards.
In any case, both poverty and the housing crisis are ultimately symptoms of inequality. People are so poor in part because, in an unequal society, there is so little of the pie left over for them to claim. And housing shortages are a phenomenon that disproportionately affects people who are poor, as well as those in the middle. After all, there’s no housing shortage from a millionaire’s point of view.
People haven’t necessarily made the full connection between these three issues, though, so I suppose that one of the questions for the 2017 election is to what extent those dots will be joined at, and if they are, what effect it has on the contest.