Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Survey Finds Rising Strain between Rich and the Poor

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Survey Finds Rising Strain between Rich and the Poor

Article excerpt

Income inequality has replaced immigration as the greatest source of tension in U.S. society, according to a new survey.

Conflict between rich and poor now eclipses racial strain and friction between immigrants and the native-born as the greatest source of tension in U.S. society, according to a survey.

About two-thirds of Americans now say that there are "strong conflicts" between rich and poor in the United States, the survey said, which was released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center. The finding suggests 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 Republican Party leadership has railed against the concept of class divisions.

The change in perception is a 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 U.S. society at the top of the news throughout most of the autumn.

Traditionally, class has been less a part of the U.S. 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? …

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