Survey: Intense Tension between Rich, Poor as Elections Loom

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In contrast, a slightly smaller share of Americans — 62 percent — said there were "very strong" or "strong" conflicts between immigrants and native-born Americans. Even smaller shares of people saw such levels of conflict between blacks and whites (38 percent) and between young and old (34 percent).

That is a change from 2009, when immigration topped the survey list as causing the strongest levels of social conflict. At that time, about 55 percent reported "very strong" or "strong" conflict between immigrants and native-born Americans, compared to 47 percent who saw such conflict between the rich and poor.

Other findings:

—Perceptions of class conflict grew for Americans of all income groups since 2009. The share increased by 17 percentage points, to 64 percent, among those earning less than $20,000; it rose 18 points, to 67 percent, among those making $75,000 or more. The increase was largest among middle-income Americans earning between $40,000 and $75,000 — rising 24 points to 71 percent.

—Since 2009, the share of whites who see serious class conflicts between rich and poor grew by 22 percentage points to 65 percent. That is roughly triple the increase among blacks and Hispanics. About 74 percent of blacks and 61 percent of Hispanics saw serious conflicts.

—About 73 percent of self-described Democrats said there were serious class conflicts, an 18 percentage point increase from 2009. The increase among Republicans was nearly as large, rising 17 points to 55 percent. The biggest increase was among political independents, jumping 23 points to 68 percent.

Pew based its findings on interviews with 2,048 adults by cell phone or landline from Dec. 6-19, 2011. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points for all respondents, higher for subgroups.

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