By Ross Kerber

(Reuters) – Bipartisan majorities of U.S. adults think CEO pay is too high, a new poll found, presenting a challenge for corporate boards looking to balance compensation for leaders and workers.

In a survey of 1,037 people in February, 81% of Democrats and 71% of Republicans said the CEOs of the largest American companies were paid "too much," according to poll sponsor Just Capital, a nonprofit focused on corporate stakeholder research.

"The story of this is really nonpartisan, across the board people are feeling like CEOs are overpaid relative to frontline workers," said Alison Omens, Just's chief strategy officer.

As boards set CEO pay, they should consider whether there is "value creation by the CEO in a way the workers will understand," she said in an interview.

Previous polls have also found public dissatisfaction with high executive pay, but the political breakdown of those views has been less explored.

A separate study in April by Equilar found median pay for the CEOs of 100 top U.S. companies rose 31% in 2021 to a record $20 million, based on proxies filed so far this year, and found the ratio of CEO pay to the pay of companies' median workers rose to 254:1 from 238:1.

Just Capital used different numbers in polling including a review of Russell 1000 companies that found a CEO-to-worker pay ratio of 235:1, and found broad concern the gaps would mean social problems.

For instance 81% said large companies should do what they can to provide basic security to their lowest-paid workers, while 19% said the companies aren't responsible for keeping workers out of poverty.

While tight labor markets have boosted workers' wages, many gains have been offset by rising inflation. Omens said expectations the COVID-19 pandemic and racial-equality movements would lead to more pay equity now seem less obvious.

(Reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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