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Americans Think People Are Poor Because Of Bad Breaks, Not Because They're Losers: Poll

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WASHINGTON -- Conservatives often say the poor and jobless got that way because of their own personal failings, but Americans tend to blame the plain old free market.

A new HuffPost/YouGov poll released Thursday finds Americans generally think both the rich and the poor ended up where they are more because of the opportunities they had in life than because of personal successes or failures.

But not everyone feels that way. Republicans are far more likely to pat rich Americans on the back for their hard work while blaming poor Americans for not working hard enough.

Among all Americans, 44 percent said they think poor people are poor mostly because of a lack of opportunities, while only 30 percent said it's mostly because of their individual failings. More specifically, 47 percent said poverty has to do more with the fact good jobs aren't available, while only 28 percent said it's because poor people have a poor work ethic.

Likewise, 52 percent said most wealthy people got where they are primarily because they had more opportunities, while 31 percent said the wealthy just worked harder than other people.

When it comes to unemployment, 51 percent said most are trying to find jobs but can't, while only 36 percent said most could find jobs if they want to. On the other hand, respondents were more divided about the long term unemployed. Forty-five percent said people who have been unemployed more than 6 months are trying to find jobs but can't, while 41 percent said they could find jobs if they wanted to.

Democrats in Congress have been trying to stir up sympathy for the long-term jobless, nearly 3 million of whom have been missing out on unemployment insurance since lawmakers let the benefits drop in December. Congressional Republicans have not been moved.

While Democrats and independents in the new survey were more likely to think the rich, poor and unemployed got where they are mostly due to outside circumstances, Republicans in the poll largely said the opposite. They tended to think the poor are poor because of individual failings, rather than lack of opportunities (48 percent to 23 percent), and that they have a poor work ethic rather than good jobs being unavailable to them (49 percent to 21 percent). And 58 percent of Republicans said both the generally unemployed and the long-term unemployed could find jobs if they wanted to.

Republicans also mostly said wealthy Americans are wealthy because they have worked harder, rather than that they've had more opportunities, by a 50 percent to 31 percent margin. But even Americans with a household income of more than $100,000 a year in the new poll disagreed with that. Forty-nine percent of these respondents said the rich have more opportunities, and only 33 percent of them said they worked harder.

Research tends to show that Americans are more likely to be rich if they were born rich, but the idea that the poor and jobless could do better for themselves if only they'd try has always held sway with conservatives. Last month, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) lamented what he viewed as the welfare-abetted laziness of the urban poor.

"We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work," Ryan said. "There is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with."

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted April 15-16 among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling.

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