By KEN THOMAS and EMILY SWANSON
LAS VEGAS (AP) – Most Democrats consider income inequality a very important issue and half of them think tougher regulations of the financial markets imposed after the 2008 financial crisis did not go far enough, according to a poll released as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders enter a crucial stretch for the party's nomination.
The poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research suggested support within the party for Sanders' fiery calls to increase regulations on Wall Street banks and address wide gaps between the nation's wealthy and poor. Most Democrats – and Republicans – support increasing the federal minimum wage, although they favor more incremental steps backed by Clinton, the poll found.
Clinton and Sanders are vying for support in Nevada, which was among the hardest-hit states during the economic downturn and holds its Democratic caucuses Saturday. The Clinton-Sanders contest, and Republican caucuses in the state three days later, could offer a snapshot of how the presidential field is being judged against the backdrop of more economic anxiety.
The poll found that reducing income inequality, a message championed by Sanders, resonates deeply with Democrats. More than three-quarters of them in the poll say reducing the gap between rich and poor is very or extremely important for the next president to address. And 8 in 10 Democrats, but just 3 in 10 Republicans, say the government has some responsibility to reduce those income differences.
Democrats were even more likely to say that reducing poverty is very important for the next president (86 percent) than that reducing the gap between rich and poor is that important (77 percent). Among all Americans, 72 percent say cutting poverty is very important, while 57 percent say reducing the gap between rich and poor is.
Las Vegas resident Bernadette Davila, 50, who accompanied her 18-year-old son, Dante Ortiz, as he registered to vote at a Sanders office, said she wanted to see a woman in the White House, but also likes Sanders' ideas about the economy.
“I know we all struggle,” Davila said. “I work in the school district helping teachers and I just have six hours a day, you know? And I see how hard these families work.” She spoke of the richest 1 percent constantly cited by Sanders and said: “We really work and we have less.”
The poll offered good news for both Clinton and Sanders.
Half of Democrats say government regulation of financial institutions and markets put in place after the 2008 financial crisis didn't go far enough, an approach in sync with Sanders' calls for more vigorous regulations. An additional 35 percent said the rules were about right, and 15 percent said they went too far. More than two-thirds of Democrats call regulating financial markets a very important issue.
The poll found widespread support for increasing the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour but offered mixed results about how high it should go. Seven in 10 Americans favor increasing the minimum wage, but only half consider it an important issue. Seven in 10 say increasing wages to keep up with the cost of living is very important.
Among all Americans, slightly over half favor increasing the minimum wage to $12 an hour, in keeping with a Senate Democratic proposal backed by Clinton, while just a third support increasing it to $15 an hour, which Sanders has advocated.
Even Democrats are much more likely to favor a minimum wage increase to $12 an hour (68 percent) than to $15 an hour (49 percent).
Don and Donna Deicken, who attended a Clinton rally in Las Vegas, said they lost their home and jobs in the recession. Don is an unemployed, 63-year-old electrician, while Donna, 59, works part-time at a retirement center and picks up extra cash as an Uber driver.
Donna Deicken fought back tears after describing how she's finding jobs for $10 or $12 an hour at her age.
“That is ridiculous that this country can't have a wage where we can live,” she said. “I don't want to lose my husband anyway, but if he were to pass away, for God's sake, I just would panic, thinking, how in the world? Who am I going to live with?”
The AP-NORC Poll of 1,008 adults was conducted Jan. 14-17 using a sample drawn from NORC's probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online or by phone.
Swanson reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Michelle Rindels in Las Vegas contributed to this report.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.