Survey | Do Americans Believe Capitalism and Government are Working?: Religious Left, Religious Right and the Future of the Economic Debate
- While roughly one-quarter of Republicans (26%) and Democrats (25%) say the lack of jobs is America’s most important economic problem, Republicans and Democrats strongly differ in their views of the importance of the budget deficit (31% vs. 7% most important) and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor (6% vs. 21% most important).
Americans are generally pessimistic about upward economic mobility. Nearly half (47%) of Americans believe that their generation is worse off financially than their parents’ generation, compared to 16% who believe their generation is doing about the same, and 36% who believe they are better off than their parents’ generation.
- The Silent Generation (ages 66-88) is the only generation in which a majority (59%) believe they are better off than their parents’ generation. Only one-quarter (26%) of the Silent Generation believe their generation is worse off than their parents’ generation. Baby Boomers (ages 49-67) are divided (45% worse off vs. 40% better off). Majorities of younger Americans in Generation X (ages 34-48) (51%) and Millennials (ages 18-33) (58%) believe they are worse off than their parents’ generation.
A majority (54%) of Americans agree that hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people, while 45% disagree.
- There are substantial divisions by income level. Nearly 6-in-10 (59%) Americans with household incomes under $30,000 a year believe hard work and determination are no guarantee of success, a view held by less than half (48%) of Americans with household incomes in excess of $100,000 a year.
Less than one-third of Americans believe the federal government is either generally working (7%) or working with some major problems (24%). Roughly two-thirds say the federal government is broken but working in some areas (40%) or completely broken (26%).
More than 6-in-10 (63%) Americans agree that government should be doing more to reduce the gap between rich and poor. Similar numbers (62%) say it is the responsibility of government to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves. A majority (56%) of Americans also believe the government should guarantee health insurance for all citizens, even if it would require tax increases.
A majority of Americans believe American capitalism is working very well (9%) or somewhat well (45%), while more than 4-in-10 say it is working not too well (26%) or not at all well (16%).
- Among Americans who say American capitalism is working, one-third (33%) believe this is because the system encourages personal responsibility, while a similar number say capitalism is working because it provides equal opportunities for everyone (29%). About 1-in-4 (24%) say capitalism is working well because it promotes individual freedom, and roughly 1-in-10 (11%) cite the creation of wealth.
- Among Americans who say American capitalism is not working, more than one-third (34%) say this is because the system encourages greed. Roughly 3-in-10 (28%) say that American capitalism is not working because it does not provide equal opportunities for everyone. More than 1-in-10 say the primary reason capitalism is not working is because it creates poverty (14%), or because it creates lasting inequalities (11%).
Americans are nearly evenly divided on whether capitalism and the free market system are consistent with (41%) or at odds with (44%) Christian values. There are only modest differences among religious groups in views about American capitalism’s compatibility with Christian values.
A majority of Americans (53%) believe that “one of the big problems in this country is that we don’t give everyone an equal chance in life.” By contrast, nearly 4-in-10 (39%) agree that “it is not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others.”
- Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) Democrats and a majority of independents (54%) agree that one of the biggest problems in this country is that we do not give everyone an equal chance in life. By contrast, a majority of Republicans (58%) and Americans who identify with the Tea Party (57%) think that it is not really a big problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others.
Americans are divided on the economic impact of family structure and instability. Nearly half (49%) of Americans agree that family instability and the decline of two-parent families is a primary cause of America’s current economic problems, while an equal number (49%) disagrees.
- There are significant racial and ethnic divisions. About 6-in-10 Hispanic Americans (62%) agree that family instability and the decline of the two-parent family are primary causes of America’s current economic problems, while white Americans are divided: 49% agree and 48% disagree. Roughly 6-in-10 (59%) black Americans disagree that family instability and the decline of two-parent families is the primary cause of America’s current economic problems.
There is a broad consensus about the values that should guide the government’s economic policy, with approximately 8-in-10 Americans agreeing that promoting freedom and liberty (86%), encouraging people to live more responsible lives (86%), and promoting equality and fairness (79%) are extremely important or very important values for guiding government economic policy. More than 6-in-10 Americans cite providing a public safety net for people facing hardships (64%) as an extremely or very important guide, while fewer Americans (59%) say the same of supporting private charity for the poor.
A newly developed religious orientation scale that combines theological, economic and social outlooks finds that 28% of Americans are religious conservatives, 38% are religious moderates, and 19% of Americans are religious progressives; additionally, 15% of Americans are nonreligious.
- Religious progressives and conservatives are distributed in very different ways within the two major political parties. Among Democrats, 28% are religious progressives,42% are religious moderates, and 13% are religious conservatives; additionally, 17% are nonreligious. Among Republicans, a majority (56%) are religious conservatives, 33% are religious moderates, five percent are religious progressives, and six percent are nonreligious.
- Religious progressives are significantly younger than religious conservatives. The mean age of religious progressives is 44—just under the mean age in the general population of 47—while the mean age of religious conservatives is 53. The mean age of the nonreligious is 42.
- Religious conservatives make up smaller proportion of each successive generation, from 47% of the Silent Generation, 34% of Baby Boomers, 23% of Generation X, and 17% of Millennials.
- Religious progressives constitute nearly twice the proportion of Millennials (23%), compared to the Silent Generation (12%). Among Millennials, there are also roughly as many nonreligious (22%) as religious progressives.
Religious progressives are significantly more heterogeneous than religious conservatives in terms of religious affiliation. Catholics (29%) constitute the largest single group among religious progressives, followed by white mainline Protestants (19%), those who are not formally affiliated with a religious tradition but who nevertheless say religion is at least somewhat important in their lives (18%), and non-Christian religious Americans such as Jews, Buddhist, Hindus, and Muslims (13%). Notably, white evangelical Protestants constitute only four percent of religious progressives. By contrast, white evangelical Protestants constitute more than 4-in-10 (43%) of religious conservatives, followed by Catholics (17%) and white mainline Protestants (15%). Black Protestants comprise about 1-in-10 of both the religious progressive (9%) and religious conservative (8%) coalitions.
Religious progressives and religious conservatives also hold different views about what being a religious person means.
Nearly 8-in-10 (79%) religious progressives say being a religious person is mostly about doing the right thing, compared to 16% who say it is about holding the right beliefs. By contrast, a majority (54%) of religious conservatives say being a religious person is primarily about having the right beliefs, while less than 4-in-10 (38%) say it is mostly about doing the right thing.
Religious conservatives and religious progressives disagree about the degree to which social problems stem from individual actions and decisions. More than 8-in-10 (82%) religious conservatives agree that if enough people had a personal relationship with God, social problems would take care of themselves. By contrast, nearly 7-in-10 (68%) religious progressives disagree that if enough people had a personal relationship with God, social problems would take care of themselves, compared to 31% who agree.
On questions related to economic policy and the role of government, religious progressives generally hold similar views to nonreligious Americans and religious moderates, while religious conservatives stand apart. For example, 37% of religious conservatives agree that the government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, compared to 69% of religious moderates, 72% of the nonreligious, and nearly 9-in-10 (88%) religious progressives.▶ Read the full report here. ▶ Read the topline questionnaire, including the survey methodology, here. ▶ Read the economic values news release here. ▶ Read the religious orientation news release here.