- 58% say U.S. is not divided into "haves" and "have-nots"; 41% say it is
- Opinions have been fairly stable over time
- 56% identify themselves as "haves," 36% as "have-nots"
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The majority of Americans continue to reject the idea that the U.S. is divided into "haves" and "have-nots," while four in 10 do see the country this way. The current 58% who disagree is typical of what Gallup has recorded since 1998, except during the economic recession in 2008, when it dipped to 49%. By contrast, two decades earlier, in 1988, the vast majority of Americans disputed that there was a have/have-not divide in the country.
The past decade has brought an increasing focus on economic inequality as a political issue, including the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, which protested policies they thought benefited the 1% of top earners. Democratic politicians have also called for policies aimed at achieving a more equitable economic distribution in the U.S.
Americans' opinions on the matter have been largely stable over time, apart from the wider gap in opinions in the 1988 survey, Gallup's first measure of this question, and the even division in 2008. The latest results are from a Feb. 12-28 Gallup poll.
Aside from Democrats and blacks, most key subgroups in the U.S. tend to think the country is not divided into haves and have-nots. Fifty-seven percent of Democrats and 70% of blacks see the country as divided in this way. Blacks are mainly responsible for the slim majority of nonwhites who believe there are haves and have-nots in the country, because Hispanics' opinions are similar to those of whites.
|U.S. divided into haves/have-nots||U.S. not divided in this way|
|Gallup, Feb. 12-28, 2019|
Gallup has found persistent racial differences on this question over time, with 20 percentage points typically separating whites and blacks.
In the past, income differences have also been apparent, though they are fairly muted -- 46% of lower-income Americans in the current survey believe the nation is divided into haves and have-nots, while 35% of upper-income Americans agree.
Americans Tend to Think of Themselves as "Haves" Rather Than "Have-Nots"
Asked how they see their own status, 56% of Americans classify themselves as "haves" and 36% as "have-nots." These percentages have been stable over time -- including during the 2008 recession. A 67% reading for haves in 1998 during the economic boom stands out from the other measurements.
As would be expected, self-identification as a "have" or a "have-not" is strongly related to one's income. Eighty-one percent of adults whose annual household income is $100,000 or more say they are haves, while 63% of those with incomes of $40,000 or less describe themselves as have-nots. There are also large gaps by education -- 71% of college graduates versus 48% of those without a college degree say they are haves rather than have-nots.
Whites (64%) are much more likely than nonwhites (38%) to identify as "haves," with blacks and Hispanics doing so at roughly equal rates.
|% Haves||% Have-nots|
|Annual household income|
|$100,000 or more||81||12|
|Less than $40,000||28||63|
|Gallup, Feb. 12-28, 2019|
Americans who believe the country is divided into have and have-not groups are evenly split as to whether they personally are haves (47%) or have-nots (50%). Meanwhile, 62% of those who do not agree that the U.S. is divided along economic lines describe themselves as haves and 26% as have-nots.
The relationship between perceptions of the country as divided and self-identification as "have" or "have-not" is most pronounced among middle-income Americans. Those in this group who believe the country is divided into haves and have-nots are about equally likely to identify themselves as haves (46%) as to say they are have-nots (51%). By contrast, 69% of middle-income Americans who reject the idea that the U.S. is divided in this way put themselves into the "haves" group, while 21% say they are "have-nots."
There are no differences in self-identification as haves among upper-income Americans based on their perceptions of whether the country is divided, and only modest differences among lower-income Americans.
Although Americans are more inclined today than in 1988 to see the country as divided along economic lines, it is still the minority opinion and has not varied much over the past 20 years. That is not to say, however, that Americans are satisfied with economic equality in the U.S. -- a majority are dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are distributed. But at the same time that 62% of Americans are dissatisfied with the nation's wealth distribution, 65% say they are satisfied with the opportunity for a person to get ahead by working hard. Moreover, Americans still tend to believe it is likely that today's youth will have a better life than their parents. Thus, it may be that perceptions of opportunity weigh more heavily in people's minds than perceptions of inequality when Americans assess whether U.S. society suffers from a have/have-not divide.
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