Americans across both parties see a growing chasm between the wealthiest and the rest of the country, according to a Pew Research/USA Today poll released Thursday. But opinions on inequality's causes, and its ideal solutions, are often filtered through a partisan lens, with Democrats in favor of government intervention and Republicans skeptical of programs aiding the poor.
Most Americans see the problem growing. Sixty-one percent of Americans, including most Republicans and Democrats, say the gap between the rich and everyone else has increased in the past decade. Thirty-eight percent of Americans now say that hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people, up 10 points in the past decade. Just 36 percent believe that the economic system is generally fair.
A sixty-nine percent majority says the government should work to reduce gap between the rich and everyone else. Two specific proposals have broad support: Nearly three quarters of Americans, including majorities in both parties, support raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Sixty-three percent support a one-year extension of unemployment benefits, although Democrats are nearly twice as likely as Republicans to back that plan. A smaller, 54-percent majority supports raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations to expand programs for the poor.
Beneath those areas of agreement, however, lie fundamental partisan differences. Ninety percent of Democrats, but just 45 percent of Republicans, think the government should work to reduce income inequality. Democrats overwhelmingly say poverty is best combated through government intervention, with 66 percent supporting government aid to the poor and 75 percent backing higher taxes on the wealthy. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans favor lower taxes and 65 percent say aid programs do more harm than good by increasing government dependency.
Those differences are underscored by divided views of the sources of economic inequality. Sixty-three percent of Democrats say that the rich are likely to have had more advantages than others, and that the poor have likely suffered from circumstances beyond their control. In contrast, 57 percent of Republicans believe that the rich have worked harder than others, and 51 percent that poverty is due to a lack of individual effort.
Americans with family incomes of $75,000 or more were more likely to attribute wealth to hard work, but income played little in opinions on the economic system's overall fairness -- 38 percent in the $75,000+ wage bracket said the system is fair, compared with 32 percent of those making less than $30,000.
The Pew Research/USA Today poll surveyed 1,504 adults by phone between Jan. 15 and Jan. 19.