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America's Not-So-Classless Society

By April 10, 2008

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In general, do you think the Republican Party favors the rich, favors the middle class or favors the poor?
most middle-class Americans believe the Republican Party favors the rich
Pew Research Center
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The America myth is one of a classless society. Yet recent data from Pew Research turns the myth on its head, at least when middle class Americans reflect on America's political parties. And twice as many (31%) middle class Americans believe they are worse off today than they were in 1964 (16%), a record drop. Neither message bears good news for the Republican Party come November.

Almost two-thirds of people who identify as middle class believe that the Republican Party favors "the rich." In contrast, only 35 percent of those who also identify as Republican agree with that assessment. Democrats overwhelmingly concur (8-in-10), twice as many as Independents (although almost 2-in-5 had no opinion).

A quarter of the Republicans surveyed believe that the Democratic party favors the rich, contrasted with 16 percent of all middle class Americans. Six-in-10 Democrats believe the party favors the middle class. Almost half of the Independents had no response to this question.

In this 2008 Pew survey of middle class America, 41 percent said that they were better off today than five years ago, the fewest since 1965 (49%). But 31 percent said that they were worse off, compared to 16 percent in 1965. This is the most pessimistic outlook since Gallup and Pew began this survey.

These survey responses reflect the trends in household income during the past decade, one marked by six years of a Republican president and Congress. The sentiment also deflects the myth of the "rising tide lifts all boats" metaphor that has been a Republican mainstay since 1980 -- although one could argue that the upper 1% of households have been "lifted" at the expense of the other 99%.

The state of the economy could be enough to turn both Congress and the White House over to Democrats in November. But I'm not convinced that single-party control inside the Beltway is the best state of affairs for the majority of us living on the other side.

Inequality In America
Real Median Household Income - 1967-2006
Middle Class Attitudes Towards Political Parties, Economy - 2008


April 10, 2008 at 8:03 am
(1) Alphast says:

Hi Kathy,

I am not sure about this classless society story/myth. I mean, the USA has always been pretty well known for the very high level of inequalities, with a small part of the population being extremely rich, a massive middle-class and a bit less massive part of the population living under poverty levels. Western European societies could arguably better fit the description of classless society, with very small amounts of extremely poor and extremely small amounts of very rich (and these are often less rich than their American counterparts).

April 10, 2008 at 1:31 pm
(2) uspolitics says:

Hi, Alphast — the myth is that the class you are born to or the one you are in now doesn’t matter …. that everyone can “get rich” (the top class) if they simply use elbow grease or pull themselves up by the bootstraps.

This myth of move-ability is countered by a perception that the dice are weighted in the favor of the rich — ie, the gov’t HELPS the rich at the expense of everyone else.

Does this make sense?

Thanks for asking — helps me clarify what I meant when I used the phrase!

April 11, 2008 at 9:17 pm
(3) KnowsBetter says:

The Horatio Algier myth is just that- a myth.

April 15, 2008 at 5:23 am
(4) Alphast says:

OK. Thanks a lot for the explanation. Well, social mobility is an issue here in Europe too. Mechanisms to reinforce class rigidity are often subtle and not even conscious, most of the time. I think there are very good explanations of the phenomenons leading to this in Pierre Bourdieu’s “La Distinction” (the distinction) and in “Freakonomics” (can’t remember the author).

This said, I would be curious to see comparative figures about socio-economic mobility in different OECD countries.

April 16, 2008 at 5:03 pm
(5) uspolitics says:

Hi, Alphast — I’d be interested in those data, too.

We do know that the **money gap** is not as great in OECD countries as it is in the US. How one moves from one quintile to another … not so sure. Education plays a large role in mobility here.

April 18, 2008 at 5:46 am
(6) Alphast says:

I agree with you that education is one key factor. I would even go as far as saying that the best factor is the availability of cheap or free but quality first grade education and at the same time of easy access to post high school education (I think that’s called college in the US system).

I also think other factors include easy access to loans (cheap money for investment), cheap and simple rules for company creation and a not too regulated labor market (preferably combined with decent social security).

April 18, 2008 at 5:54 am
(7) Alphast says:

Hi, I have found the data here:

There is a comparative table on quintile mobility.

April 19, 2008 at 7:48 pm
(8) uspolitics says:


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