(Pew Research Center)
The widest gap is between Republican and Democrats' opinion of the social safety net. Forty percent of Republicans agree with the statement, "It's the government's responsibility to care for people who can't care for themselves," compared with 75 percent of Democrats. That gap has widened by 20 points since 1987.
If there is any bright spot in the report, it is that the divide in income and education levels over questions about social mobility haven't gotten any greater in the past 25 years.
One way Pew measures this is by asking people whether they believe that success in life is largely determined by factors outside a person's control. A "yes" response signals that the respondent doesn't believe in one of the central promises of the American Dream—social mobility and equality of opportunity. The stark divide in answers by income is startling, but that gap hasn't changed much in a quarter century. Half of lower-income people say that success in life is mostly beyond people's control, while only 22 percent of upper income people believe so. College graduates are also much more likely to believe that a person can control his or her success.
The stasis in this divide comes in spite of the widening income gap between the rich and poor in America and Republican criticism that Obama engages in "class warfare" by saying wealthy people should pay higher taxes than they currently do.
A belief in personal control over financial destiny sets Americans apart from many Western European nations. In a Pew Global Attitudes survey last year, 72 percent of Germans and 57 percent of French people agreed that success is mostly decided by outside forces, compared to only 36 percent of Americans overall.
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