The Hill Poll: Most voters say path to economic top is steeper

It’s a lot tougher to make it in America these days, say a strong majority of likely voters.

Nearly two-thirds questioned in The Hill Poll last week said it is either somewhat or much harder than it used to be to move from one economic class up to another, with 33 percent calling it somewhat harder and 33 percent calling it much harder.

The survey found that, as the United States emerges slowly from the current recession, only 21 percent of likely voters believe it is somewhat or much easier now to change economic class.


The sense of economic paralysis felt by most voters is a major force in the ongoing Republican presidential primary, where multimillionaire former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney remains the putative front-runner.

Romney’s appeal to many voters lies in his business background and conservative economic philosophy, which he says he will use to fix the bad and only slowly improving economy.

At the same time, however, he has been criticized for signs of insensitivity to middle-class voters, including challenging Texas Gov. Rick Perry to a $10,000 bet, and for waffling when asked to make his tax returns public.

While more than half of likely voters said a candidate’s wealth does not make him or her more or less suitable to be president, 71 percent of those polled said presidential candidates should release their tax returns.

That finding should be a boon to Romney, who is worth more than $250 million, and announced on Sunday that he would release his 2010 returns and 2011 estimate online Tuesday.

At last Thursday night’s Republican debate in North Charleston, S.C., Romney was pushed by GOP rivals and the audience to release several years of tax returns straightaway. He hesitated, however, and initially promised to release them in April, reversing course Sunday.

This response would be of particular concern to centrist voters, according to The Hill Poll, 77 percent of whom said candidates should release their tax returns.

Only 66 percent of conservatives felt the same, compared to 73 percent of liberals in the poll.

Centrist voters were also the most likely to say that a candidate’s wealth does not affect his or her suitability to be president at 57 percent, followed by conservatives at 54 percent and liberals at 48 percent.

Among political parties, this division was even more pronounced: Sixty-four percent of independents said candidates’ wealth was no issue, compared with 54 percent of Republicans.

Democrats were split on the question, with 41 percent saying it made no difference but 40 percent saying it made a candidate less suitable.

The findings were based on a nationwide survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted Jan. 19 by Pulse Opinion Research, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Click here to view data from The Hill Poll.