More Americans See Themselves as "Haves" Than "Have-Nots"

Story Highlights

  • 58% of Americans see themselves as "haves"
  • More view themselves as "have-nots" than in the past
  • Majority, however, don't view U.S. as divided along these lines

PRINCETON, N.J. -- The majority of Americans, 58%, consider themselves to be "haves" in U.S. society, while 38% put themselves in the "have-not" group. The percentage of have-nots has more than doubled since 1988, but has been more stable in recent years. Meanwhile, the percentage of haves has held fairly constant, except for a single higher reading during the economic boom in 1998.

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Americans' responses to this question provide a way of looking at inequality in U.S. society -- based on Americans' own perceptions of where they are socio-economically. The latest update is part of Gallup's 2015 Minority Rights and Relations poll, conducted June 15-July 10.

The percentage of Americans perceiving themselves to be have-nots rose in the 10 years between the initial 1988 survey and 1998, while the percentage choosing neither dropped. Since then, the have percentage has settled into a tight range between 57% and 60%. The have-not category has been on more of an upward trajectory, though percentages have fluctuated from year to year.

It is possible that these changes reflect the more difficult economic times ushered in by the Great Recession. It's also possible that the higher visibility of discussions about social inequality has resulted in more people deciding they are on the less fortunate side of the nation's economic divide.

Lower-Income Americans Most Likely to See Themselves as Have-Nots

As would be expected, socio-economic status is strongly related to a person's tendency to place himself or herself in one of these two groups. There are substantial differences between those in high- versus low-income categories and between those with college degrees and those without.

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Still, only a little more than half of those whose annual household income is less than $36,000 say they are have-nots, along with less than half of those with some college or less.

Majority of Americans Don't Think of U.S. as Divided Into Haves, Have-Nots

While all but 5% of Americans are willing to place themselves into a have or have-not category in the survey, more than half say they actually don't view the nation in these terms.

In the current survey, 54% of Americans say they do not think of U.S. society as being divided into groups of haves and have-nots, while 45% do. The percentage of Americans who consider society divided into these two groups has fluctuated over the years, but it was significantly lower in 1988 when Gallup first asked the question, and slightly lower, on average, from 1998 to 2004 than in the years since. The starkest contrast was in 1988, when 26% said that the nation was divided. In 2008, just as the Great Recession was taking a firm hold on the nation's economy, that percentage reached its all-time high of 49%.

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As might be expected, those who believe the U.S. is divided into groups of haves and have-nots are much more likely to identify themselves as have-nots rather than haves (63% to 35%, respectively). Those who do not see the U.S. divided in this way are much more likely to place themselves in the have group (64%) than the have-not group (36%).

Blacks Most Likely to Perceive U.S. as Divided on Economic Lines

There is an interesting pattern in responses to these two questions among whites, blacks and Hispanics. Blacks are much more likely than whites or Hispanics to say they think of the U.S. as being divided between haves and have-nots. But blacks and Hispanics are equally likely to describe themselves as have-nots. These results suggest that blacks are more conscious on a daily basis of inequality in society as a whole than is the case for Hispanics or whites.

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The stratification of U.S. society into unequal socio-economic 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 Democratic presidential candidates. The results of the two questions reviewed 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.

These views are somewhat different than they were in 1988, when fewer Americans thought of the U.S. as being divided, and fewer, when asked, put themselves into the have-not category. In recent years, however, there have not been major changes on these indicators.

Historical data for this question is available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 15-July 10, 2015, with a random sample of 2,296 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. All respondents had been previously interviewed in the Gallup Daily tracking survey and agreed to be recontacted by Gallup. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 857 non-Hispanic whites, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 802 non-Hispanic blacks, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 508 Hispanics, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±7 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

View survey methodology, complete question responses, and trends.

Learn more about how Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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