February 10, 2016

Most Americans say U.S. economic system is unfair, but high-income Republicans disagree

It has become one of the recurring questions of the 2016 presidential campaigns in both parties: Is the U.S. economic system fair to most Americans, or is it “rigged” to favor the rich and powerful?

Most Americans say economic system unfairly favors powerful interests A substantial majority of Americans – 65% – say the economic system in this country “unfairly favors powerful interests.” Fewer than half as many (31%) say the system “is generally fair to most Americans.”

There are notable differences on this issue between – and within – both political parties. Overall, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to view the economic system as unfair (73% vs. 54%).

The ideological gap is even starker. Conservative Republicans are split over the fairness of the economic system: 50% say the system favors the powerful, while just about as many (47%) say it’s fair. By contrast, fully 82% of liberal Democrats say the economic system in this country favors powerful interests. A slim 15% think it’s fair to most.

High-income Republicans less likely to say U.S. economic system is unfairThe economic differences within parties are striking. Republicans and Republican leaners with family incomes of $100,000 or more are more likely than any other income group in either party to say the system is fair to most Americans: 60% of Republicans with incomes of at least $100,000 express this view, compared with no more than about four-in-ten Republicans in lower income categories.

Among Democrats, the pattern is reversed. Higher-income Democrats and Democratic leaners are the most likely to say the economic system in this country unfairly favors powerful interests: 82% of Democrats with a household income of $100,000 or more say this; just 17% say the system is typically fair to “most Americans.”

On the other hand, Democrats and leaners earning less than $30,000 a year are somewhat more likely than those in higher income brackets to say the system is generally fair to most Americans: Nearly three-in-ten (29%) think this.

Topics: Economic Policy, Political Attitudes and Values, Income Inequality

  1. Photo of Hannah Fingerhut

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


  1. Anonymous1 year ago

    1% Earns 59% of all new wealth. 99% think this is unfair. 1% thinks this is just great, because after all, he works 250,000,000 times harder than the poor guy who has 3 jobs to make ends meet.

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      omg so true

  2. Red Drake2 years ago

    This is really not very surprising? Republican voters have been up in arms about having the freedom to pursue things and be rewarded for great effort. That’s basically how the system works right now. Admittedly there are allot of regulations that prohibit someone without a lot of money from starting a business and having any hope of success. I’m sure that’s what republicans would find “unfair”. But generally for now you can work harder, be smarter, be more useful, and except more risk then make more money. That’s what they want and that is “fair” to them. Since anyone has the option to pursue these things.

    The democratic definition of “fair” is extremely different. “Fair” is defined by an entitled life style. ( I exist as a human and as a human I deserve to have these things regardless of effort or contribution ). That is not how things work right now at all. We are valued by the work we provide to make a product or provide a service. Those who contribute the most towards this goal (or perceived as such) are given more. The ones who take the most risk (Business owners, CEOS, Managers, Chair members) are rewarded greatly for doing so. To the democratic voter this is “Unfair” as they believe that their work or effort regardless of the contribution or risk doesn’t meet the standards of living that they expect for existing.

    So obviously they would find things to be more “unfair”. Our society and economic system cannot afford nor can it abide by the standards set forth as the expected minimum for existence. People who meet the economic needs to provide them with that life style are usually people who are perceived as doing less “work”. (Risk is rarely considered as it can not be perceived with the naked eye unless something goes wrong.)

    These two things are Very ideologically incomparable there cant be middle ground one or the other has to surrender their “fairness”.

    1. Stevie Stephens2 years ago

      I can’t agree with Red Drake. If only the first part of the study, based on ideology was provided, he might have a point. But if you look at the socio-economic data, Republicans and Democrats are fairly close in belief at the low end of the scale. But as they both make more money, the Republicans see the system as fair and Democrats see unfairness.

      I would say it’s against human nature to belittle yourself, so why would the Democrats essentially say that they benefit from an unfair system? Maybe because it’s true. What I believe they are saying is that they have taken advantage of the system, whether they like it or not.

      Red Drake is assuming that all rich are Republican, which is certainly not the case.

    2. Phoenician Romans2 years ago

      But generally for now you can work harder, be smarter, be more useful, and except more risk then make more money.

      If that’s the case, then why has the vast majority of the productivity increases in America over the past couple of decades been captured only by the top 1%?

      Either the US has an unfair system, in which the wealthy leverage their position to appropriate economic growth to themselves, or the US has a fair system (as you claim) – but 99% of people haven’t worked harder or been smarter over the past decade, with 1% working so much harder that they’ve driven nearly all economic growth on their own.

      1. Anonymous1 year ago

        Yikes well put. i.e. selling us on that perceived risk yet doesnt seem to go wrong for top 1% where is that curve?