December 1, 2015

Republicans divided by income over government’s role in ‘safety net’ issues

Republicans are far less supportive than Democrats of a strong government role on issues related to the social safety net, but it’s a subject on which the party has notable divisions within its ranks.

Among Republicans, stark income divides on federal government's role on poverty, health care, other issuesThere are stark socioeconomic differences within the GOP when it comes to issues like poverty, health care and education: Lower-income Republicans are more likely than those with higher incomes to favor a major role for government in these areas.

By contrast, large majorities of Democrats – regardless of their family income – support a strong government role in each of these areas.

The largest internal GOP differences are over the government’s role on poverty and health care, according to a new Pew Research Center survey on attitudes about government.

About half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents with annual family incomes of less than $30,000 say the federal government should have a major role in helping people get out of poverty (53%) and ensuring access to health care (50%). Among Republicans and Republican leaners with annual incomes of $75,000 or more, just 24% favor a major role for government in helping lift people from poverty, and 20% want it to have a major role in ensuring access to health care.

Fully 70% of Republicans with incomes below $30,000 support a major government role in ensuring a basic income for those 65 and older; only about half (48%) of those with incomes of at least $75,000 say the same. And while majorities among both higher- and lower-income Republicans want the government to have a major role in strengthening the economy, this view is more widely shared among those with incomes of $30,000 or less (74%) than among those with incomes of $75,000 or more (56%).

On most of these issues, the views of middle-income Republicans and Republican leaners – those with family incomes of $30,000 to $75,000 – fall between those of higher- and lower-income Republicans. But in opinions about the government’s role in ensuring access to quality education, identical shares of Republicans with incomes of less than $30,000, and those with incomes of $30,000-$75,000, favor a major role (62% each). Only 42% of Republicans with higher incomes ($75,000 or more) want a major government role in this area.

Broad agreement on government role on terrorism, infrastructure, disasters and safety of food, medicineThere is broad consensus – among members of both parties, regardless of income – for a strong government role in keeping the country safe from terrorism, maintaining roads, bridges and other infrastructure, responding to natural disasters and ensuring food and medicine safety.

The survey asks about the federal government’s performance – as well as its role – in 13 separate areas. The differences among Republicans in views of government performance are far less pronounced than over the government’s role. And in some instances, the income differences among Democrats are about as large as those within the GOP.

For instance,  while there is widespread criticism of the government’s job in alleviating poverty, lower-income Republicans and Democrats give the government higher marks than do those with higher incomes.

Modest income differences in partisans' evaluations of government performanceNearly half of Democrats (46%) with family incomes of $30,000 or less say the government does well in helping people get out of poverty; 37% of those with incomes of $75,000 or more agree. Differences by income among Republicans are similar (36% among those with incomes of less than $30,000 say government does this well, vs. 26% among $75,000+).

About four-in-ten Republicans (42%) with incomes of less than $30,000 say the government is doing a good job of strengthening the economy, compared with just 28% of Republicans making $75,000 or more. Among Democrats, the differences are more modest: 65% of those with lower incomes rate the government’s performance positively, as do 71% of those with higher incomes.

As past Pew Research Center surveys have found, lower-income adults are less likely to vote or participate in politics than those with higher incomes. This is the case among both Republicans and Democrats.

The new survey on government attitudes finds that just 27% of Republicans and Republican leaners with annual incomes of less than $30,000 are politically engaged – that is, they say they are registered to vote, do so regularly and follow politics most of the time.

Among middle-income Republicans, nearly half (47%) are politically engaged. And among those with incomes of at least $75,000 a year, 65% are politically engaged.

The same pattern is evident among Democrats and Democratic leaners. About half (51%) of Democrats with annual incomes of $75,000 or more say they vote regularly and follow politics most of the time. That compares with just 21% of those with incomes of below $30,000.

Note: For detailed views of government role and performance across all 13 issues by income, and income categories within each party, click here.

Topics: Income, Political Attitudes and Values, Political Party Affiliation

  1. Photo of Meredith Dost

    is a research assistant focusing on U.S. politics and policy at Pew Research Center.


  1. bobm11 months ago

    Seems that as ‘good Christians’ the Republicans must be in the low percentile of reading and listening retention and comprehension. Sad, the party of Lincoln is close to becoming the party of Trump.
    As for Obama comments, like many Reps online, Long on Attribution, short on factual validation of what the President has done for the country. Enjoy your cheaper gas, your better health, your cleaner air, and your safer ‘from terrorists’ homeland.
    Of all the gun violence in America this year, old San Bernardino was committed by terrorists (one of which was born in the USA). per: CNN, FOX, FBI, et al

  2. Paul Mooney11 months ago

    The Greece example is incomplete. It is cherry picking to make a point. The wisdom of the Euro is the root of the crisis. Greece is not Germany. The Euro favors rich, high tech manufacturing economies. Yes they overspent and have a significant safety net and pension program but so does all of Europe. The inability to adjust their currency to make up for strength and weekness in their economies is the primary reason for the hardship of some European countries vs others. German as the lead EU country chose austerity to deal with the financial crisis. This punished the poorer countries when they were already stressed. Only the United States chose stimulative policies and recover faster and further than all the Europeans. President Obama made the right choice against all the Republicans pushing austerity. Had the Republican not cut the stimulas in half the recovery would have been even more robust. Now the deficit is under 500B from a high of 1.4 trillion. More time reading a variety of sources and less time watching fox news is a better way to understand economics. Unless you have a different goal.

  3. DC11 months ago

    It is all about protecting your personal status quo for the high earning Republicans. If we, as Americans, all worked together to protect the less advantaged in society, results would be much different. The proper amount of money and effort would be directed where it should. We all should all sacrifice for the benefit of others.

  4. Steve11 months ago

    No matter how many figures, graphs, Calculations. The fact is government support does not work. Under president Obama homeless and poor has increased. This is a quiet secrete of the democrats. “VOTES”. would you give your kids candy every day while they sit around an watch TV?. Humans need to work. They are made to work. You cant keep stealing money from hard working people to give to people that has been entitled for years. It is to late to change the mind set. Remember what happened in Greece. They ran out of money and could not give out free money to support people any more. So the public rioted because they lost there government income. The statement that humans “Have the right” is false and dangerous.

    1. Kalkat11 months ago

      This posted comment is certainly an argument for better access to quality education . . .

    2. Alfredo11 months ago

      Steve, just wondering what group you would be in?


      less than $30,000?


      $75,000 or more?