Previous studies have posited that elites are willing to advance the redistribution of income and social goods when the negative effects of inequality, such as crime and conflict, threaten their own interests. Although elites acknowledge these negative effects, their support for redistributive policies remains low throughout the Global South. We address this paradox using a multi-method research design. Drawing on 56 in-depth interviews with Brazilian political and economic elites, we document how, when discussing the negative effects of inequality, interviewees consistently characterized the poor as ignorant, irrational and politically incompetent. We use these findings to theorize about the negative impact of such perceptions of the poor on elite support for redistribution. We then test this relationship using survey data gathered from random samples of political and economic elites in Brazil, South Africa and Uruguay (N¼544). We find the relationship to be robust.