Jan. 10, 2013 at 3:17 PM ET
More than half of Americans see a strong conflict between the nation’s rich and poor people, but the rift appears to have decreased somewhat since a year earlier.
A new Pew Research survey finds that 58 percent of Americans see a strong or very strong conflict between rich people and poor people, down from 66 percent in late 2011.
The latest survey was conducted in late November and early December of 2012, just weeks after a contentious presidential election that touched heavily and repeatedly on the gap between rich and poor people in America.
Still, the researchers said the data did not point to a clear explanation for the decline from a year earlier. And, the researchers noted, the percentage of people who do see significant strife remains much higher than when they asked the question for the first time in 2009.
The gap between rich and poor was a common theme during the heated presidential campaign. President Barack Obama made raising taxes on the wealthy a mainstay of his efforts to get re-elected, while Republican contender Mitt Romney, one of the wealthiest presidential candidates in years, was forced to fight accusations that he was out of touch because of his wealth.
Both candidates argued passionately that their plans would help the nation’s middle class, which has struggled for years amid a deep recession and weak recovery.
The survey also was conducted as a fierce battle was heating up over raising taxes on the wealthy to avoid the fiscal cliff. After a protracted debate, Congress struck a deal to raise taxes on individuals who earn $400,000 a year, and households with income or $450,000 a year or more, as part of the fiscal cliff deal.
Although the percentage of people reporting strong conflicts between rich and poor lessened, it’s clear that the wealth gap remains one of the nation’s most divisive issues. The Pew research found that the conflict between rich and poor remained a bigger rift than other social conflicts, such as those between blacks and white and those between immigrants and people born in the United States.
Still, a higher percentage of people – 81 percent – saw strong conflicts between Republicans and Democrats.
Those closer to the top and bottom of the income scale were more likely to see class conflict. The Pew researchers said 60 percent of people with family incomes of less than $30,000 or more than $75,000 a year saw strong disagreements between the classes.
Income inequality has generally increased in recent years, as many Americans have seen their financial situation sour because of the housing bust, high unemployment and other woes. Median household income is 8.9 percent lower than it was at the least peak in 1999, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The gap between rich and poor also has sparked social movements such as Occupy Wall Street, which focused on the top 1 percent of Americans by wealth.