Allison Linn

More see class conflict between rich and poor

Jan. 11, 2012 at 2:03 PM ET

Mark Boster/Reuters /
One key issue for the Occupy movement has been the rift between the nation's wealthiest residents and the remaining 99 percent.

More Americans are seeing a significant rift between rich and poor people, with most people saying there is a strong or very strong conflict between those who are wealthy and those who are not.

A survey released Wednesday by Pew Social & Demographic Trends finds that 66 percent of Americans see strong or very strong conflicts between rich and poor people. That’s a 19 percentage point increase over 2009.

Another 23 percent said there was conflict, but it wasn’t very strong.

Only 7 percent of respondents said there is no conflict between wealthy and struggling Americans, according to the survey of more than 2,000 Americans conducted in mid-December.

The strife between rich and poor people is now seen as a bigger issue than other social conflicts, including conflict between immigrants and native-born Americans and tension between black and white Americans, according to the Pew study.

Despite the perception that there is a growing conflict, the Pew report said they did not find clear support for things like government measures to address income inequality.

In addition, people’s perceptions of how the rich get rich have not changed much in recent years.

Pew Social & Demographic Trends /

More than 4 in 10 respondents said they think people are wealthy because they were born into wealthy families or know the right people. But a nearly equal percentage said they think they earned their money through hard work, ambition or education.

“While the survey results show a significant shift in public perceptions of class conflict in American life, they do not necessarily signal an increase in grievances toward the wealthy,” the report said.

There’s no question the gap between rich and poor has been a particularly hot topic in recent years.

As millions of Americans have struggled with high unemployment and other lingering effects of the recession, the nation’s median household income has actually fallen slightly.

Meanwhile, the wealth gap between the richest Americans and the rest of the country widened during the recession, which officially ended in 2009.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has been perhaps the most visible sign of people’s frustrations over the gap between rich and poor, prompting national attention and similar protests throughout the country.

Some have focused their attention on the tax system.

In August, Warren Buffett generated a huge national debate when he asked lawmakers to tax the rich more, chastising what he called the “billionaire-friendly Congress” for coddling him and his wealthy friends.

Many elected officials are wealthy themselves. The New York Times noted last month that nearly half of all members of Congress are millionaires, and many Congress members have actually gotten richer in the past six years.

The Republican presidential candidates’ wealth also has been a sensitive issue over the course of their primary campaign.

Mitt Romney, one of the wealthiest presidential candidates in years, has been criticized for being out of touch after gaffes such as jokingly offering fellow candidate Rick Perry a $10,000 bet.

Meanwhile, Romney has taken shots at his rivals’ wealth, last month insinuating that Newt Gingrich was out of touch because he’s “a very wealthy man.”


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