It became one of the recurring questions of the 2016 presidential campaigns in both parties: Is the American economic system fair for most Americans, or is it “rigged” to favor the rich and powerful?
A substantial majority of Americans – 65% – say this country’s economic system “unfairly favors powerful interests.” Less than half (31%) say the system “is generally fair for most Americans.”
There are notable differences on this issue between – and within – the two political parties. Overall, Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents are more likely than Republicans and Republican-leaning Republicans to view the economic system as unfair (73% vs. 54%).
The ideological gap is even more glaring. Conservative Republicans are split on the fairness of the economic system: 50% say the system favors the powerful, while about as many (47%) say it is fair. In contrast, 82% of Liberal Democrats say this country’s economic system favors powerful interests. A slim 15% think that’s fair for the most part.
The economic differences within the parties are striking. Republicans and leaning Republicans with a household income of $100,000 or more are more likely than any other income group from either party to say the system is fair for most Americans: 60% Republicans with incomes of at least $100,000 hold this view, compared to no more than about four in ten Republicans in low-income categories.
Among the Democrats, the pattern is reversed. High-income Democrats and low-income Democrats are the most likely to say this country’s economic system unfairly favors powerful interests: 82% of Democrats with household incomes of $100,000 or more say so; only 17% say the system is generally fair to “most Americans.”
On the other hand, Democrats and Leaners earning less than $30,000 a year are somewhat more likely than those in higher income brackets to say the system is generally fair for most Americans: nearly three out of ten (29%) think so.
Hannah Fingerhut is a former research analyst specializing in American politics and politics at the Pew Research Center.