October 13, 2011

No Consensus About Whether Nation is Divided Into ‘Haves’ and ‘Have-Nots’

52 vs. 45

Despite an extended economic downturn, the public’s impression of whether the nation is economically divided remains relatively stable. While 45% say American society is divided between “haves” and “have-nots,” 52% say it is incorrect to think of the country this way.

Despite an extended economic downturn, the public’s impression of whether the nation is economically divided remains relatively stable. While 45% say American society is divided between “haves” and “have-nots,” 52% say it is incorrect to think of the country this way. This is comparable to the balance of opinion a year ago.

The percentage of Americans who see society as divided between “haves” and “have-nots” declined shortly after Barack Obama took office, but has rebounded since. In April 2009, just 35% said the nation was divided economically, down from 44% in October 2008. The number saying the nation is economically divided increased to 42% a year later and has changed little since then.

Since 2009, the percentage of independents saying the country is divided between “haves” and “have-nots” has risen 15 points, from 32% to 47%. There has been a comparable increase in the proportion of Democrats expressing this view (from 47% to 59%). Just 27% of Republicans see the nation as economically divided, which is largely unchanged from two years ago (24%).

While consistent with views over much of the past decade, the balance of opinion about the notion of economic division in the country stands in sharp contrast to where it was a quarter century ago. In Gallup polls in the mid-1980s, far wider majorities rejected the idea that the country was divided into “haves” and “have-nots.”

The results come from a survey conducted Sept. 22-25 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and The Washington Post. Read More