A nation of “haves” vs. “have-nots”? Gallup tests the perceptions.

pictureIn any presidential political season, there’s always plenty of rhetoric about the American economy, how well it’s performing for the average voter, and people’s perceptions of how they’re doing socioeconomically.

As it turns out, the Gallup Survey has been testing this issue annually for years now — going all the way back to 1988.

The question posed to Americans in Gallup’s surveys is a simple one: Do you consider yourself personally to be part of the “haves” or “have-nots” in America?

Gallup’s latest survey was fielded in July 2015.  Nearly 2,300 U.S. adults aged 18 and older were part of the research.

In response to the “haves vs. have-nots” question, ~58% of respondents considered themselves to be “haves” in U.S. society, while ~38% placed themselves in the “have-nots” segment. (The remaining ~14% see themselves borderline between the two, or they don’t have an opinion.)

Over time, Gallup has found that the percentage of Americans who perceive themselves to be part of the “have-nots” in society rose pretty steadily from 1988 to 1998, but since that time the percentages have leveled off — even during the worst years of the Great Recession from 2009-2011.

And so, the “haves” percentage has fluctuated in a tight band between 57% and 60% in each year since the late 1990s.

It seems that heightened discussions about social inequality in America haven’t resulted in a higher percentage of people thinking that they are on the less fortunate side of the country’s socioeconomic divide.

However, considering that the latest Gallup survey was conducted in July 2015 — and that since that time there have been more news events drawing attention to the issues of social justice — one wonders if we may be on the cusp of some changing thinking on the subject.

Another persistent finding in Gallup’s surveys is this:  Even among families of quite modest means (annual household incomes of $35,000 or lower), only a little more than half in that segment consider themselves to be part of the “have-nots” group.

Education-wise, the survey findings are similar, with fewer than half of the respondents who don’t possess college degrees considering themselves part of the “have-nots” segment.

In reporting on the Gallup survey results, an article published in the November 2015 issue of Quirk’s Marketing Research Review magazine stated:

“The stratification of U.S. society into unequal socioeconomic groups has long been a fixture of philosophic, political and cultural debate. It appears to have remained or even expanded as a fairly dominant leitmotif in the ongoing 2016 election, particularly among the Democratic presidential candidates. 

[Nevertheless,] the results … in this analysis show that a majority of U.S. adults do not think of American society as being divided along economic lines, and a slightly higher percentage say that if society is divided, they personally are on the ‘haves’ side of the equation rather than the ‘have-nots.'”

More information about the Gallup survey results can be viewed here.

What are your thoughts? Do the perceptions Americans have of socioeconomic inequality — or the lack of it — match the reality?  Or are we poised to see some new significant shifts in the way Americans view socioeconomic divisions in this country?

2 thoughts on “A nation of “haves” vs. “have-nots”? Gallup tests the perceptions.

  1. David Brooks (NY Times) wrote a piece about this issue during or just after the Gore-Bush presidential contest 16 years ago. You may recall that the income/’class’ issue also was raised by VP Gore during his campaign.

    So Brooks hopped in his car and drove to rural Pennsylvania to see how it was resonating. What he discovered was that people who live in small-town America see themselves as ‘haves,’ even when their incomes are extremely modest by urban standards.

    And that’s because there are two sides of the equation: income and cost of living.

    Most people in the small Pennsylvania town Brooks visited felt that they were doing just fine, even though they would have a hard time making ends meet in most large American cities.

    That some people in NYC were making millions was of no concern to them. (Nothing about NYC — or Los Angeles or Chicago — was of much concern to them, actually.) Interestingly, Brooks said he could not find any restaurant in town where it was possible to spend more than $20 on dinner.

    It doesn’t look like perceptions have changed much.

  2. That poll obviously is an assemblage of subjective responses.

    Not that the $100K/annum and up would fluctuate to the “have-nots” … but in the segment of the between $10-40K/year people the perceptions depend on what they perceive their needs to be: how many kids at what age there are; and if their general income level has been rising or declining; how high their obligations are, like mortgages and other payments. I think that those parameters should be worked into the results.

    Just a thought.

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