[Marxism] Survey Finds Rising Perception of Class Tension
giobon at comcast.net
Thu Jan 12 13:09:02 MST 2012
Survey Finds Rising Perception of Class Tension
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
January 11, 2012
Conflict between rich and poor now eclipses racial strain and
friction between immigrants and the native-born as the greatest
source of tension in American society, according to a survey released
About two-thirds of Americans now believe there are “strong
conflicts” between rich and poor in the United States, a survey by
the Pew Research Center found, a sign that the message of income
inequality brandished by the Occupy Wall Street movement and pressed
by Democrats may be seeping into the national consciousness.
The share was the largest since 1992, and represented about a 50
percent increase from the 2009 survey, when immigration was seen as
the greatest source of tension. In that survey, 47 percent of those
polled said there were strong conflicts between classes.
“Income inequality is no longer just for economists,” said Richard
Morin, a senior editor at Pew Social & Demographic Trends, which
conducted the latest survey. “It has moved off the business pages
into the front page.”
The survey, which polled 2,048 adults from Dec. 6 to 19, found that
perception of class conflict surged the most among white people,
middle-income earners and independent voters. But it also increased
substantially among Republicans, to 55 percent of those polled, up
from 38 percent in 2009, even as the party leadership has railed
against the concept of class divisions.
The change in perception is the result of a confluence of factors,
Mr. Morin said, probably including the Occupy Wall Street movement,
which put the issue of undeserved wealth and fairness in American
society at the top of the news throughout most of the fall.
Traditionally, class has been less a part of the American political
debate than it has been in Europe. Still, the concept has long
existed for ordinary Americans.
“Americans have always acknowledged that there are Rockefellers and
the lunch-bucket guy,” said Tom W. Smith, director of the General
Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center, based at the
University of Chicago. “But they believe it is not a permanent caste,
but a transitory condition. The real game-changer would be if they
give up on that.”
Going by the survey’s results, they have not. Forty-three percent of
those surveyed said the rich became wealthy “mainly because of their
own hard work, ambition or education,” a number unchanged since 2008.
The survey’s main question — “In America, how much conflict is there
between poor people and rich people?” — was based on language used by
Mr. Smith’s center at the University of Chicago, Mr. Morin said.
Mr. Smith said the question was often understood to mean, “Do the
rich and the poor get along?” and “Do they have the same objectives?”
The issue has also become a prominent part of the political debate.
President Obama has pressed the case that income inequality is rising
as election season has gotten under way.
It has even crept into the Republican presidential primary race. At a
debate in New Hampshire last Saturday, Rick Santorum criticized Mitt
Romney for using the phrase “middle class,” dismissing the words as
Democratic weapons to divide society. And conservatives have been
wringing their hands over Newt Gingrich’s recent attacks on Mr.
Romney’s past in private equity, saying they are a misguided assault
on free-market capitalism.
Independents, whose votes will be fought over by both parties, showed
the single largest increase in perceptions of conflicts between rich
and poor, up 23 percentage points, to 68 percent, compared with an 18-
point rise among Democrats and a 17-point rise for Republicans. Sixty-
eight percent of independents believe there are strong class
conflicts, just below the 73 percent of Democrats who do. (The
survey’s margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage
points for results based on the total sample.)
“The story for me was the consistency of the change,” Mr. Morin said.
“Everyone sees more conflict.”
The demographics were surprising, experts said. While blacks were
still more likely than whites to see serious conflicts between rich
and poor, the share of whites who held that view increased by 22
percentage points, more than triple the increase among blacks. The
share of blacks and Hispanics who held the view grew by single digits.
What is more, people at the upper middle of the income ladder were
most likely to see conflict. Seventy-one percent of those who earned
from $40,000 to $75,000 said there were strong conflicts between rich
and poor, up from 47 percent in 2009. The lowest income bracket, less
than $20,000, changed the least.
The grinding economic downturn may be contributing to the heightened
perception of conflict between rich and poor, said Christopher
Jencks, a professor of social policy at the John F. Kennedy School of
Government at Harvard University.
“Rich and poor aren’t terribly distinct from secure and unemployed,”
The survey attributed the change, in part, to “underlying shifts in
the distribution of wealth in American society,” citing a finding by
the Census Bureau that the share of wealth held by the top 10 percent
of the population increased to 56 percent in 2009, from 49 percent in
“There are facts behind it,” Mr. Smith said of the findings. “It’s
not just rhetoric.”
Robert Rector, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, took
issue with that, arguing that government data routinely undercounted
aid to the poor and taxes taken from everyone else.
To him, the findings did not mean much, “other than that the topic
has been in the press for the last two years.”
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