(CN) – More Americans than ever generally believe that people find their way into wealth and poverty due to circumstances and obstacles rather than hard work or laziness, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Monday.
The results show that 71% of Americans generally believe a poor person is poor because “they have faced more obstacles in life than most other people,” compared to the 26% who said “they have not worked as hard as most other people.” Those numbers mark a record high and low, respectively, when compared to national poll results on similar questions asked as recently as 2016 and as far back as 1964.
Americas are only slightly less divided when it comes to circumstantial explanations of a rich person’s wealth: 65% of respondents said people are largely rich due to enjoying more advantages in life than others, while 33% attributed their wealth to working harder than others.
The answers were collected online and over the phone in mid-January from Pew’s American Trends Panel, whose more than 12,000 active participants provide the “principal source of data for U.S. public opinion research,” according to the nonpartisan research organization. Results based on the full sample have a margin of error of 1.3 percentage points.
Keeping with previous trends, partisan lines divided respondents’ views deeply: 82% of Democrats and independents leaning Democrat pin the rich’s wealth on advantages and 86% blame life obstacles for a person’s poverty.
Republicans and conservative independents’ answers were split nearly down the middle: 53% said hard work is generally why someone becomes rich, while 45% attributed richness to advantages. Similarly, 55% of Republicans said they think poor people are in poverty due to facing unique obstacles, while 42% said it is because they work less hard than others.
Pew researchers also polled Americans about billionaires’ impact on the country More than half of all respondents, 58%, believe that billionaires are “neither a good thing or a bad thing” for the country.
More (23%) think that billionaires’ existence is a bad thing than a good thing (19%) for the U.S. Republicans are more generally agnostic on the goodness or badness of billionaires (62%), though more Republicans and Republican-leaning independents think billions are a good thing (28%) than bad (9%). Compare that to liberal Democrats’ responses, nearly half of whom (48%) say billionaires are bad for the country.
Just shy of 40% of adults aged 30 or under say possessing at least a billion dollars is a bad thing, considerably more than respondents between 39 and 49 (24%) and the 50-plus crowd (15%).
Of those surveyed, 5,221 said they are Republican or lean Republican, while 7,013 respondents claimed to be Democrats or to lean Democrat.