This message is likely to resonate with many Americans. Seven in ten American adults say their country’s economic system unfairly favors powerful interests, compared with less than a third who say the system is generally fair for most Americans. Large majorities of Americans also say politicians, big business and wealthy people have too much power and influence in today’s economy.
These findings are part of a larger Pew Research Center survey of economic inequality. The survey reveals, among other things, that most Americans think there is too much inequality in the United States, with the majority of those who share this view saying that major changes to the economic system are needed to combat against inequality.
Across all income groups, Americans tend to agree that the economic system unfairly favors powerful interests. Two-thirds of upper-income adults (66%) say this, as do 69% of middle-income adults and 73% of low-income adults. No more than about a third in each income group say the economic system is generally fair for most Americans.
Economic inequality is increasingly part of the American national political debate. We conducted this study to better understand what Americans think about this issue and how those views differ by partisanship and by key demographic variables – especially income.
For this report, we surveyed 6,878 American adults in September 2019. The report also includes some results from a separate survey conducted in early September. The adults surveyed are members of the Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel recruited by random national sampling of residential addresses. Here are the questions used for this analysis, as well as the answers, and its methodology.
To create the upper, middle and lower income levels used in this report, family incomes were adjusted for differences in purchasing power by geographic region and household size. Respondents were then placed into income brackets using a methodology similar to the Center’s previous work on the American middle class: average income is defined as two-thirds of twice the median annual income of the survey sample . Lower income falls below this range and higher income falls above it. For more information on how the income brackets were created, see the Methodology section of this report.
There is, however, a partisan divide on this issue. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are evenly split, with half saying the economic system is generally fair and the other half saying it favors powerful interests. Among Democrats and Democrats, the vast majority (86%) say the system unfairly favors powerful interests, while just 12% say the system is fair.
Republican opinions differ significantly by income level. Lower-income Republicans are much less likely than their higher-income GOP counterparts to say the economic system is generally fair (37% vs. 63%).
Among Democrats, large majorities in all three income groups say the economic system unfairly favors powerful interests: 94% of high-income Democrats and 90% of middle-income Democrats say so, as do 79% of low-income Democrats. income.
Across Americans, there is a broad consensus around which groups have too much power in today’s economy. About eight in ten or more adults say politicians (84%), big business (82%) and the wealthy (82%) have too much power and influence. About three-quarters (74%) say health insurance companies have too much power, and the majority say the same of banks and other financial institutions (64%) and tech companies (61%).
High, middle and low income adults largely agree on the degree of influence of these groups. For example, 81% of high-income adults say politicians have too much power and influence, as do 86% of middle-income adults and 82% of low-income adults. And large majorities in all three income groups say big business and wealthy people have too much power and influence.
There is common ground between the parties on this issue. For example, large majorities of Republicans (86%) and Democrats (82%) say politicians have too much power and influence in the economy.
On other groups, supporters differ somewhat. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say big business, the wealthy and financial institutions have too much power. Republicans, in turn, are much more likely than Democrats to say unions have too much power.
There are also some differences in party coalitions. Low-income Republicans (79%) are more likely than middle-income (68%) and upper-income Republicans (58%) to say wealthy people have too much power in today’s society. A similar trend applies when it comes to opinions about large companies.
Among Democrats, those with higher incomes are more likely than lower-income Democrats to say banks and other financial institutions have too much power (82% vs. 64%).
When it comes to knowing who has too small Power and influence In today’s economy, three groups stand out for Americans: the poor (75% say so), small business (73%) and the middle class (72%). Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to say the poor have too little influence (89% vs. 56%) and to say the middle class has too little influence (76% vs. 67%). Democrats and Republicans are largely in agreement when it comes to small business.
Opinions on the influence of these three groups are fairly consistent across income levels.
Note: See the questions used for this analysis, as well as the answers and its methodology.