It's Official: Wealth Gap Has Turned America Into a Seething Pit of Class Resentment

Class divideDo you think that the biggest conflict in America is between the rich and the poor? If so, join the club: According to a recent poll published by the Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that the wealth gap is the greatest cause of tension in America.

According to the poll, which was released Wednesday, 66% of Americans believe that there is a "strong" or "very strong" conflict between the rich and the poor. These numbers are particularly noteworthy when one considers that in July 2009 -- less than three years ago -- only 47% of respondents expressed those opinions. What's more, the number of respondents who stated that there was a "very strong" conflict has more than doubled, and is currently at the highest level since Pew began asking the question in 1987.

America: Melting Pot or Boiling Cauldron?

Pew's findings are also surprising when one considers all the other things that cause social tension. Essentially, during the past three years, more traditional sources of friction -- race, gender, religion, sexual preference, age and national origin -- have become vastly overshadowed by distrust over wealth.

According to Wednesday's poll, the biggest jump in class awareness has occurred among white respondents: While 74% of black and 61% of Hispanic respondents said they believed that there is a serious class conflict in America, the increase in people holding that opinion since 2009 among both those groups was less than 13%. By comparison, the number of white respondents who believe that there is a strong or very strong conflict between the rich and the poor has shot up from 43% to 65% -- an increase of more than 50%.

The Political Equation

According to the survey, Democrats are most likely to perceive class tension in America, but respondents across the political spectrum overwhelmingly agreed that there is conflict between the rich and the poor. In 2009, only 38% of Republicans said they thought there was a strong conflict between classes. Today, 55% do. Among independent voters, the numbers were even more stark: in the last three years, the percent of people who perceive a serious class conflict has jumped from 45% to 68%.

This perception of class conflict has already changed the contours of the 2012 Presidential race. Earlier this month, Rick Santorum attacked Mitt Romney and Barack Obama for using the term "middle class":
The governor used a term earlier that I shrink from. It's one that I don't think we should be using as Republicans: "middle class." There are no classes in America. We are a country that don't allow for titles. We don't put people in classes. There may be middle-income people, but the idea that somehow or another we're going to buy into the class-warfare arguments of Barack Obama is something that should not be part of the Republican lexicon. That's their job -- divide, separate, put one group against another.
While Santorum might be uncomfortable with Gov. Romney's terminology, it would appear that the two are in agreement about the issue of class warfare. In a later interview, the Today show's Matt Lauer asked Romney if there are legitimate questions to be asked about the fairness of wealth distribution in the country. Romney responded by suggesting that any such questions were based in envy and class warfare, and left little question about who he felt was behind these arguments:
You know, I think it's about envy. I think it's about class warfare. When you have a President encouraging the idea of dividing America based on the 99% versus 1% -- and those people who have been most successful will be in the 1% -- you have opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.

Not Just a Democratic Issue

But Romney may be misreading his audience: There is evidence to suggest that Democrats aren't the only people who are concerned about wealth distribution in America. In addition to the growing number of worried Republicans that the Pew poll identified, an earlier poll by Bloomberg and The Washington Post found that 53% of Republicans believe that taxes should be increased on households making more than $250,000 per year.

While all of the major Republican candidates endorse tax cuts for the wealthy, Romney's personal wealth and his perspective on class warfare have made him especially vulnerable to attacks on the issue. A recent Newt Gingrich ad features a collection of Romney gaffes, including the now-famous clip in which he tries to make a $10,000 bet with Gov. Rick Perry, and the campaign rally in which he explicitly asserts that "corporations are people." Meanwhile, Winning Our Future -- a political action committee that endorses Gingrich -- has released "When Mitt Romney Came to Town," a half-hour video that links Romney's position as CEO of Bain Capital, a private-equity firm, to job losses across the country.

While it remains to be seen how much the struggle between the rich and the rest will affect the next election, one thing is clear: For a growing number of voters, one eye will be on the ballot box, and the other will be on the bottom line.


Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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1683 Comments

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kmsbears

Note that the 17% increase in class envy that the author cites has occurred since Obama took office. I'm 63 and never in my lifetime have I seen a president so actively stoke the fires of resentment towards the affluent. I've been in the lower middle class, middle class, and upper middle class. When I was broke and living pay check to pay check, I never begrudged someone who had more than me. I don't think most people did. This increasing trend of envy and resentment is the most destructive force I've seen in my life time.

January 27 2013 at 2:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ewan72403

Why are you surprised? The Democrats have worked tirelessly to create this class hatred and resentment as a way of diverting blame from themselves.

January 25 2013 at 5:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kass

the sky is falling !

May 07 2012 at 3:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Adele

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/24/nyregion/in-police-training-a-dark-film-on-us-muslims.html?_r=1

Interesting read.......

January 24 2012 at 6:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike

Indoctrination by educrats of students to be envious is at an all time high. Time to close the federal dept of education and end the teachers union. Parents and local govt need to be re-empowered to manage education, see what socialism gets you? Got gold?

They breath there for they're owed. See what socialism gets you? Federalism has been destroyed by libtardism. Let fed default and fade away. We have 50 state govts to do the job and defense can be handled via treaty between states same as we do now for North America with Canada. Got gold?

January 24 2012 at 10:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike

FEDERALISM HAS BEEN DESTROYED BY LIBTARDS. Let it default and fade away we have 50 state govts to do the job and leave all the fed parasites unemployed. Win win! Got gold?

January 24 2012 at 10:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Larry J

The gap between the rich and the poor will continue to fuel division among people. Nature is revealing our true state to us, where we divided yet at the same time are global and integral. Humans are the only animals that are against harmony and don't move towards balance. We can no longer advance this way and this is what the current crises reveals to us. Until we start working in alignment with nature, we will continue to suffer.,

January 23 2012 at 11:23 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Larry J's comment
epines7186

Larry J, this is so on the mark!

Its like a black pit that opens before us -- of being helplessly strangled below by ever-strengthening wealth above, and the terror of a rising mass of envy from below. But this isn't the real story yet. It will be when suddenly each group perceives the blackness seen by the other -- and that both are merely revealed and hidden aspects within themselves. Our own ego, grown to a monstrous, unscrupulous all-consuming monster with nothing left to eat but our own flesh.

Like our remarkable intelligence, ego is the other special trait that is different from the rest of Nature. And if we are to survive and yet thrive, it will only be by that Ego using that intelligence to see the end of the matter, and that intelligence using that ego -- in its sense of self preservation -- to bring about a successful return to natural balance.

Every good business person know the importance of a sustainable model. And for America, and Humanity as a whole, Nature provides us the only sustainable model we've got.

January 24 2012 at 4:26 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
onegoal.shelly

The crisis also reveals to us the differences between people. We see it as the gap between the rich and the poor, but essentially, this is the manifestation of the need to compensate, to reconcile people. We are looking for an opportunity to compensate for our inborn differences so that everyone could stand equal to others. That's why it's not just a democratic issue, as the article states, and it's also not just an economic issue. We were born unequal, we have unequal capabilities, we are all different. Money cannot measure everything. Economics cannot provide an answer to that, but we can compensate for its deficiencies with the help of the mutual concern and integral consciousness. We should use a higher, all-inclusive calculation, which will become a defining feature of the future economy.

January 24 2012 at 9:02 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
Mike

"WEALTH" and so call American " POVERTY" are like Heat and Cold. Cold is the ABSENCE of heat. Poverty is the absence of wealth. This means like Heat can not make anything cold wealth can NOT make any one poor! Poverty is the lack of input of wealth buy the individual. Life is not fair and can be very hard, get over it. Free market wealth is fair. Wealth goes to those that produce for others directly or indirectly through labor to producers. Non producers ( able bodied) do not deserve wealth. That's as fair as it gets. Quit wining and get a job, or make one. And no you aren't owed a job so start kissing as s and be thankful to those that invite you to share in their production. Got gold?

January 22 2012 at 2:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
snidersunrise1

class resentment is just bull s--t from wimps that can't make it with out crying. I work I pay my bills. I make less than 25k a year and could care less what any one else makes. Do with what you got. Don't try and take it from some one else. Bunch of whiners.

January 21 2012 at 1:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike

Fed res dollar printing has increased to keep up with US treasury's need for them as debt buyer of last resort. Euro is doing same for their debt but doesn't hold the luxury as world's res currency. Fed exports inflation to the world, Euro can't & WILL hyper inflate to ZERO. Europe WILL run to the dollar as others trade for gld/slvr. Even with a small demand increase gld/slvr price WILL rise outside the fed's ability to keep suppressed & dollar WILL start its final fall, world WILL panic & gld/slvr will BE the only reserve currency, again. World fiat system is collapsing & we face deep depression. Got Gold? China & India does, why's that you figure? Got gold?

January 19 2012 at 8:31 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply