LOS ANGELES -- President Obama and Republicans are trading jabs over the phrase "class war" in dealing with the nation's struggling economy, but a slight majority of Americans reject the idea of a country divided between haves and have-nots, according to a poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and The Washington Post.
According to the survey, 52 percent said it was wrong to think of the United States divided between those who economically have and those who are lacking. Still, 45 percent said that such a division, part of the basis for the historic definition of class and class war, was appropriate.
Soon after Obama took office, the percentage of Americans who saw society as divided between haves and have-nots declined. In April 2009, 35 percent said the nation was divided economically, down from 44 percent in October 2008, just before the election that hinged in part on the candidates' response to a plummeting economy. The number saying the nation is economically divided increased to 42 percent a year later and has remained relatively the same since, according to the poll.
Just under half, 48 percent said that if they were forced to choose they would call themselves among the haves, while 34 percent said they are among the have-nots. The number seeing themselves in the have-not category has doubled from 17 percent in 1988 to 34 percent in the latest poll.
The division between those who have and those who lack has been one of history's best indicators of the political stability of societies. Whether feudal or industrial, societies that have become too divided by wealth have been unstable.
When Obama proposed his jobs plan coupled with tax increases for the wealthy, Republicans were quick to respond, accusing the president of trying to redistribute wealth and of launching class war against the rich. Obama has fired back in a series of appearances during which he embraced the GOP criticism, then tried to turn it on its head as a plus for Democrats seeking to mobilize poor and middle-class votes.