[Marxism] Survey Finds Rising Perception of Class Tension

Bonnie Weinstein giobon at comcast.net
Thu Jan 12 13:09:02 MST 2012

Survey Finds Rising Perception of Class Tension
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,”  
he said.

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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