Three-Fourths of Americans Say the Rich Have Too Much Power: Poll

Alexander Eichler, 12-15-2011, HuffPost

The major contention of Occupy Wall Street — that America is a country where a tiny slice of the population controls a disproportionate amount of the wealth and power — appears to be a view shared by a healthy majority of people.

Seventy-seven percent of Americans say that too much power rests in the hands of large corporations and a few wealthy people, according to a poll released Thursday from the Pew Research Center.

The Pew poll doesn’t use the language of Occupy Wall Street, which frames the class struggle in America and elsewhere as a face-off between “the 1 percent” and “the 99 percent.” But the poll indicates that the Occupy movement’s general sentiment is basically mainstream. Sixty-one percent of respondents in the Pew poll said that the U.S. economic system unfairly favors the rich. Fifty-one percent said that Wall Street hurts the economy more than it helps it.

Overall, the poll suggests that large numbers of Americans feel walled off from the success and economic momentum enjoyed by some. The results reflect a diverging society where corporate profits can reach $1.56 trillion — a record share of the size of the national economy — at the same time that 13 million people are unemployed and at least 46 million are living in poverty.

Notably, the poll also found rising skepticism about a notion commonly associated with the American Dream, that anyone can make it if they work hard. While 58 percent of people agreed with that view, 40 percent said they did not — the highest percentage to disagree with that statement since Pew began asking the question in 1994.

It’s possible that the weak economy is causing more people to doubt the idea of pulling yourself up by your boostraps. With unemployment high and wages more or less holding steady, many Americans are working two jobs and still struggling to get by, while others spend months on a fruitless job search. One in five people in the U.S. has trouble putting food on the table, and almost half of all Americans are earning so little that they classify as either poor or low income.

While the Pew poll found that many Americans agree with Occupy’s principles in the abstract, it found that opinion is more divided when it comes to the movement’s tactics. Forty-four percent of respondents said they support Occupy Wall Street overall, compared with 35 percent who said they opposed them. By contrast, just 29 percent said they approved of the way the protests have been conducted, and 49 percent said they opposed the movement’s strategies.

Other surveys in recent weeks have suggested that public support for the Occupy movement is beginning to deflate. At least one poll, published in mid-November, noted that for many, the problem isn’t the Occupiers’ message but their methods, which have included mass demonstrations and longstanding encampments in public spaces.

In recent weeks, some members of the multifaceted movement have turned to increasingly bold stunts to advance their agenda, including protesting Goldman Sachs while dressed as giant squid (a reference to aRolling Stone portrayal of the company as a “great vampire squid”), and marching to Capitol Hill with a papier-mache golden bull. It’s not yet clear whether these attention-grabbing tactics will win public support or further alienate the people who have disagreed with Occupy’s strategies to date.

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