Americans DO Now See More Class Conflict

Many more Americans now believe that strong conflicts exist between the rich and the poor. After years of very high unemployment, millions of home foreclosures, and months of the Occupy Movement dominating the news, maybe this is not so surprising. But there ARE some unexpected aspects of this change in attitude.

In mid-January, the Pew Research Center released a report titled “Rising Share of Americans See Conflict Between Rich and Poor.”

You’ve likely heard about the Pew Research Center, but you may not know that it is a highly respected public policy research organization that is not only nonpartisan, it does not even take positions on issues. Instead it sees its role as “provid[ing] information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping American and the world.” This report is an example of data it puts out for others to debate about their policy implications.

The survey analyzed in this report was conducted in mid-December, and compared the results to those of the same survey in 2009. The main conclusion is that the percentage of people who believe that there are either “very strong” or “strong” conflicts between the rich and the poor has increased in just two years from less than half—47%– to about two-thirds—66%–of us. Even more dramatic, the percentage stating the conflict is “very strong” doubled in these two years, from 15% to 30%.

If these attitudes are not just temporary, and especially if this trend continues, the social and political consequences for our nation would be huge.

But beyond this headline-grabbing main finding, the report also contained the following surprises:

  • This perception of conflict is perceived to be greater among rich and poor than within other longstanding social conflicts in society—more than between immigrants and native born, between blacks and whites, and between young and old.
  • This perception is NOT one held only by those with lower income.  To the contrary people of all incomes share a similar increase in perception of conflict.
  • Younger people perceive more class conflict than do older people, women more than men, Democrats more than Republicans, and African Americans more than whites and Hispanics.
  • In spite of increases in perceptions of class conflict among virtually all groups, the report does “not necessarily signal an increase in grievances toward the wealthy” nor “growing support for governmental measures to reduce income inequality.” Specifically, “there has been no change in views about whether the rich became wealthy through personal effort or because they were fortunate enough to be from wealthy families or have the right connections.”