Americans View Well-To-Do as Intelligent, Hardworking, but Greedy

According to Pew Research Center surveys, the issue of income inequality is in the news at a time when the U.S. public believes there is a growing gulf between rich and poor that is likely to continue. A substantial majority of Americans (65%) said in 2012 that they believed the income gap between the rich and poor had widened over the last decade. Just 20% said it had stayed the same and 7% said it was smaller. Most of those (57%) who believed the gap had grown said it was a bad thing for society, says the report.

Growing Gap Between Rich and Poor (Past 10 Years; % of Respondents)

Gap Attitude

% of Respondents

Gotten larger


Stayed the same


Gotten smaller


Don’t know


Source: PewResearch, December 2013

The public sees this gap as an ongoing fact of life. A separate survey found that Americans agreed by a 76% to 23% margin with the statement that “… today it’s really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer.” That gap had grown since Aug. 2002 when the margin was 65% to 33%, but the size of it was not much different than it was in 1987.

There was a large partisan gap when it came to the perception of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, notes the report. The share of Democrats (92%) who agreed with that statement had increased eight points since 2009 and was as high as it has ever been in Pew Research polling. A much smaller number of Republicans (56%) agreed. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of independents subscribed to the “rich get richer” perception.

Rich Get Rich While Poor Get Poorer (% of Respondents)










Source: PewResearch, December 2013

Americans views are mixed about the rich, says the report. Americans view the well-to-do as more intelligent and more hardworking but also greedier, the survey found. 43% said the rich were more likely than the average person to be intelligent and 42% said they were more likely to be hardworking. 55% saw the rich as more likely to be greedy compared with 9% who said less likely. Republicans were more likely to describe the rich as hardworking, by a 55% to 33% margin. 65% of Democrats saw the rich as greedy compared to 42% of Republicans.

Perceptions of the Rich (% Saying Rich People More or Less Likely Than Average Person


Rich More Likely

Less Likely

No Opinion/No Different

















Source: PewResearch, December 2013

46% of those surveyed said that circumstances beyond one’s control were more often to blame for why people are poor, while 38% said an individual’s lack of effort was more to blame. In addition, 65% believed that most poor people in the U.S. do work, but were unable to earn enough money. Just 23% said the poor do not work.

Sharp ideological divides, according to the report, were found on both those findings. Democrats said by a 61% to 24% margin that circumstances beyond one person’s control were primarily to blame for them being poor. 57% of Republicans, taking the opposite view, blamed individuals who were poor for lack of effort compared with 28% who said it was due to circumstances beyond their control.

On the question of being able to earn enough money on the job, 89% of liberal Democrats and 78% of moderate and conservative Democrats said poor people work but do not earn enough money, but only 53% of moderate and liberal Republicans agreed. Conservative Republicans were evenly divided.

In March of 2013, Pew Research Center updated these trends, showing that 61% of Americans said the U.S. economic system favors the wealthy, while just 35% said it’s fair to most people. Similarly, 66% of Americans said the gap between rich and poor had increased in the past five years, with 47% of the respondents saying that the rich-poor gap was a “very big” problem.

Low- and middle-income people were most likely to say the U.S. economic system favors the wealthy, but even 52% of high-income people agreed that it does, says the report. And while 54% of low-income people and 49% of middle-income people called the rich-poor gap a “very big” problem, only 36% of high-income people did so.

Politically, as one might anticipate says the report, 55% of Republicans said the economic system is fair to most people, but 75% of Democrats and 63% of Independents said it favors the wealthy. And 61% of Democrats and 50% of independents said the gap was a very big problem, versus only 28% of Republicans. Four-in-ten Republicans termed the gap either a small problem or not a problem at all.

Please visit the PEWresearch Fact Tank here for more information.

Next story loading loading..