Recently the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey of 2,048 individuals about their perceptions of class conflict in the U.S., which are quite interesting in light of the Occupy Wall Street protests and the current attacks on Mitt Romney’s work with Bain Capital, which wouldn’t be that surprising except that they’re coming from other GOP presidential hopefuls (including Rick Perry referring to “vulture capitalism”). In the Pew survey, 2/3 of participants reported that there are “strong” or “very strong” conflicts between the rich and poor, with only 7% saying there are no conflicts:
This indicates an increase in perceived class conflict since 2009, where under half said there were “strong” or “very strong” conflicts between rich and poor. We also some difference by race, with African Americans perceiving more conflict than Whites or Hispanics, and Democrats and Independents seeing more than Republicans:
While I think these findings are interesting, I’m also struck by the language. Since Americans tend to define themselves as middle class, regardless of income, the wording here (“rich” vs. “poor”) would seem to ask Americans about their perceptions of conflict between groups that they likely do not identify with personally (though many may interpret “rich vs. poor” as shorthand for general economic inequality, of course). I just wonder what the results would be if we had a survey that asked about conflicts between the rich and the middle class, or “the rich and people like you” (and the same questions about the poor).
Regardless, increasing perceptions of class-based conflict doesn’t mean respondents necessarily think the wealthy are unfairly well-off. They were almost evenly split on whether the rich got their wealthy because of connections (family or otherwise) or because of their own hard work and effort:
The NYT has an article about the survey as well, with additional graphics. Thanks to Shamus Khan for the tip!