ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
In the video she released yesterday announcing her candidacy, Hillary Clinton alluded to the unfairness of American life.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
HILLARY CLINTON: Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.
SIEGEL: We wondered, do Americans typically share that view of an unlevel playing field that tilts toward the rich? Carroll Doherty is director of political research for the Pew Research Center. Welcome to the program.
CARROLL DOHERTY: Nice to be here.
SIEGEL: And tell us, what do the polls say about public attitudes toward the fairness or the unfairness of economic life in the U.S.?
DOHERTY: Well, I mean, you get a majority - a solid majority of Americans saying the economic system unfairly favors powerful interests. You get majorities saying that since the recession, government policies have done more to benefit corporations, banks, wealthy people than the middle class or poor. And most say inequality is a bigger problem than it used to be.
SIEGEL: I saw one pair of numbers was about 2 to 1 in the '60s versus the '30s, fair or unfair.
DOHERTY: Exactly. And we see this across many income categories. There's a big partisan gap on these attitudes, but there's an important other element to this in terms of opportunity. We asked, in the same survey about a month ago, can most people get ahead if they're willing to work hard? And you get about 64 percent saying, yes, they can still. And that number dipped a little bit during the recession, but has come back.
SIEGEL: You said that there's a big partisan divide here. Are Democrats more likely to say the deck is stacked and Republicans more likely to say it's fair?
DOHERTY: Right. Seventy percent of Democrats say, quote, "the deck is stacked," I guess, in those words. Forty-nine percent of Republicans say the economic system unfairly favors powerful interests.
SIEGEL: We've heard a lot about income inequality over the past year and how the gap between the very rich and the rest of us in the country has grown. Is the sense of unfairness that you see in polls either growing or changing at all?
DOHERTY: Well, it's difficult to say. In some ways, this is a perennial attitude of Americans. We've asked a question about the rich getting richer for - in our value surveys for more than 25 years. And you get more than 70 percent every time saying, yes, it's just the rich getting richer. That's a constant state. On the other hand, when you ask specific questions about inequality and is it growing, most people perceive, yes, it is growing, and it's a problem for the United States. Now, how to deal with it is a divisive issue.
SIEGEL: Yeah. I want to play something that President Obama said last year in his State of the Union address when he was talking about how people who work full-time shouldn't have to raise a family in poverty. He also said this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BARACK OBAMA, HOST:
Americans understand that some people will earn more money than others. And we don't resent those who, by virtue of their efforts, achieve incredible success. That's what America's all about.
SIEGEL: At Pew you poll about American values. Would most Americans agree with that statement, do you think?
DOHERTY: They probably would. I mean, you'll get some differences about the details. I mean, what's interesting about the opportunity question is that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say that most people can get ahead if they're willing to work hard. Seventy-eight percent of Republicans say this versus 55 percent of Democrats.
SIEGEL: And even so, the 55 percent of Democrats is a majority.
DOHERTY: It's still a majority, but not as sizable a majority as the Republicans, correct.
SIEGEL: So the notion that the deck is stacked is certainly not a fringe, radical thought, but maybe not the greatest political motivator one could imagine for policy.
DOHERTY: Well, what we've seen in this 2016 campaign - very early days, but, you know, even the three Republican candidates have talked about, you know, either rising inequality or lack of opportunity. So this is becoming a theme now. You know, when we asked the question last year, is inequality growing, majorities across the board, Republicans, Democrats, independents, said yes.
SIEGEL: Carroll Doherty, director of political research at the Pew Research Center. Thanks for talking with us.
DOHERTY: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.