Most say billionaires are neither good nor bad for the U.S., but a growing share say such personal wealth is bad

A growing share of U.S. adults say it’s a bad thing for the country that some people have personal fortunes of a billion dollars or more, though a majority continue to say it is neither good nor bad, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. The survey comes as several billionaires have made headlines in recent months for space exploration, philanthropy and entertainment, as well as for their wealth and power.

Roughly three-in-ten Americans (29%) now say the fact that there are some people who have personal fortunes of a billion dollars or more is a bad thing for the country, up from about a quarter (23%) in January 2020.

The share who say having billionaires is a good thing for the country has decreased somewhat over the same period, from 19% to 15%.

To assess public attitudes about billionaires in the United States, Pew Research Center surveyed 10,221 U.S. adults July 8-18, 2021. Everyone who took part in this survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses, and its methodology.

A narrow majority of Americans (55%) continue to say billionaires are neither a good thing nor a bad thing for the country, similar to the proportion of adults who said so last year (58%).

Both Democrats and Republicans have become more negative about the impact of billionaires, according to the survey, which was conducted from July 8 to 18 among 10,221 members of the Center’s American Trends Panel. But Democrats remain far more likely than Republicans to hold this view.

Among Democrats and Democratic leaners, the share who say billionaires are bad for the country has increased by 8 percentage points since 2020 (from 34% to 42%). Just one-in-ten Democrats say billionaires are good for the country, nearly identical to the share who said this last year (12%).

Majorities in most groups say the fact that there are billionaires is neither a good nor bad thing for the U.S.

Liberal Democrats are particularly likely to say it’s a bad thing for the country that there are people with personal fortunes in the billions: 54% say this, while just 6% say it is a good thing. Among conservative and moderate Democrats, about a third (32%) say having billionaires is bad for the country; 12% say it is good.

Among Republicans and independents who lean toward the Republican Party, the share who say billionaires are a bad thing for the country has increased by 5 percentage points (from 9% to 14%), while the share who say they are a good thing has decreased by 7 points (from 28% to 21%).

Nearly two-thirds of Republicans (64%) say the existence of billionaires is neither good nor bad for the country, including identical shares across ideological groups within the GOP. However, moderate and liberal Republicans who do see an impact are about equally likely to say having billionaires is bad for the country (20%) as to say it is good (16%). Among conservative Republicans, about twice as many say the fact that some people have billion-dollar fortunes is good for the country (24%) as say it is bad (11%).

Roughly a third of White (30%), Hispanic (32%) and Asian American adults (34%) say that having billionaires is a bad thing for the country. Black adults are less likely to say this, with 19% saying billionaires are a bad thing for the country. (Black adults are more likely than those in other racial and ethnic groups to say this is neither good nor bad.)

Half of adults under 30 and a third of those ages 30 to 49 now say billionaires are a bad thing for the U.S.

Younger adults are considerably more likely than older adults to say having billionaires is bad for the country, and this age gap has grown wider over the last year.

Today, half of adults under 30 say the fact that some people have fortunes of a billion dollars or more is bad for the U.S., up from 39% last year. And a third of those ages 30 to 49 now say this, up from about a quarter (24%) last year. By comparison, about two-in-ten adults ages 50 and older (18%) say billionaires are bad for the country, only slightly higher than the 15% who said this last January.  

Within each party, adults under 30 are more likely than older people to have negative views about the presence of people with billion-dollar fortunes. Three-in-ten Republicans ages 18 to 29 say it is a bad thing that some people have fortunes of a billion dollars or more, compared with 16% of Republicans ages 30 to 49, 9% of those ages 50 to 64 and 8% of those 65 and older.

Among Democrats, 61% of those ages 18 to 29 say the fact that there are billionaires is bad for the country. That compares with 47% of Democrats ages 30 to 49, 24% of those ages 50 to 64 and 32% of those ages 65 and older.

Similar shares of White and Hispanic Republicans say billionaires are a bad thing for the country. (Black and Asian Republicans make up small shares of the public. As a result, their respective sample sizes are too small to analyze separately.) But there are substantial differences by race and ethnicity among Democrats.

About half of White Democrats (52%) say billionaires are a bad thing for the U.S., compared with about four-in-ten Hispanic (39%) and Asian Democrats (40%). Comparatively few Black Democrats have a negative view of the impact of billionaires: 21% say that some people having fortunes of a billion dollars or more is bad for the country.

Republicans who have lower incomes are slightly more likely than middle- and upper-income Republicans to say the impact of billionaires is bad for the country. Democrats do not differ significantly on this question based on family income.

Andrew Daniller  is a research associate focusing on politics at Pew Research Center.