“Haves” vs. “Have Nots”

Despite the best efforts of President Obama and the Occupy Wall Street movement to pit the so-called “99 percent” against the “1 percent,” Americans are increasingly rejecting the idea that the country is divided into “haves” and “have nots.” Gallup reports the percentage of Americans who believe this has dropped significantly since 2008, especially among independents and moderates:

Americans are now less likely to see U.S. society as divided into the “haves” and “have nots” than they were in 2008, returning to their views prior to that point. A clear majority, 58 percent, say they do not think of America in this way, after Americans were divided 49 percent to 49 percent in the summer of 2008.

As Gallup notes, this is despite the economic downturn, the rising unemployment rate and the increasing pessimism about the direction of the country. When asked to choose which of the categories they see themselves in, a clear majority of Americans also say they are “haves” as opposed to “have nots”:

If they had to choose, 58 percent of Americans would say they are in the “haves,” rather than the “have nots” group. This breakdown has held remarkably steady over the past two decades of economic boom and bust, with a record-high 67 percent of Americans putting themselves in the “haves” category during the strong economic times of the late 1990s.

This is a pretty significant blow to the Occupy movement, and helps explain why the protests never caught fire with the general public. Americans just don’t accept the idea that the 1 percent is taking advantage of the 99 percent. In fact, nearly 60 percent of Americans, when forced to choose, would categorize themselves as the people of privilege. This number has remained fairly steady since 1989, though it rose to a height of 67 percent during the economic boom in the late ‘90s.

The one area to be concerned about is the growing number of people who categorize themselves as “have nots.” In 1989, just 17 percent of Americans put themselves in that group. That’s steadily increased during the years, and now hovers around 34 percent. This is in spite of the explosion of federal spending on entitlement programs, and if the trend continues, it will become more and more difficult to make reductions in these areas.