May 24, 1999

Public Cool To Presidential Pay Raise

Introduction and Summary

There is little public support for a plan to give the president a pay raise for the first time since 1969. When told that the president’s salary has not been increased since 1969, 49% favor a pay raise for the next president to take office, while 39% oppose it. But when people are also told the president now earns $200,000 and gets housing and travel expenses, just 41% favor a pay raise and 55% oppose it.

Despite the lack of public enthusiasm for raising the president’s salary, most Americans say the pay for both the president and for Congress should be increased at least once every decade. Two-thirds (66%) say the president should get a pay raise at least every 10 years, and 68% say Congress should get a pay raise at least as often.

Only one-in-four, however, think the president’s pay should be increased by more than $20,000 — well below the proposed doubling of the chief executive’s salary being proposed on Capitol Hill. Just one-in-five Americans (19%) know what the president now earns.

Reminding people of the president’s current salary also erases partisan differences on the pay raise question. In a nationwide Pew Research Center survey conducted May 12-16, 1999, each half of the sample was asked a different pay raise question. When the president’s current salary is not mentioned, 57% of Democrats favor a pay raise, compared to 48% of Republicans and 47% of Independents. But when the president’s salary and benefits are mentioned, the level opposition is the same among Democrats (54%), Republicans (54%) and Independents (56%).

Support for a presidential pay raise is particularly strong among those who approve of the way Clinton is handling his job and those who say they generally trust the government in Washington. There is also more support among more affluent Americans and those with a college education. For example, majorities of those with household incomes over $50,000 support a presidential pay raise — regardless of whether the question mentions the president’s current salary or not.

Just 9% of those who oppose a pay raise say it’s because presidents are doing a bad job. Most opponents (54%) say it’s because presidents “already earn enough.”

If the next president does get a pay raise, nearly seven-in-ten Americans (69%) say the salary should be increased by $20,000 or less, although those who favor a pay raise are more generous than those who oppose one. Half of those who favor an increase think the raise should be for $20,000 or less, while 45% would accept an even larger raise. In contrast, fully 88% of those who oppose a pay increase think it should be for $20,000 or less.