Americans see economic inequality as a bigger threat than nuclear weapons

Asked to name top threat to the world, a plurality of Americans say it's the gap between rich and poor

Published October 16, 2014 5:05PM (EDT)

  (AP/J Pat Carter)
(AP/J Pat Carter)

A plurality of Americans view economic inequality as the top threat confronting the globe, a new Pew Research Center survey finds.

Pew polled people in 44 countries for the survey. In the U.S., 27 percent of respondents named income inequality as the biggest danger to the world, followed by religious and ethnic hatred (24 percent), nuclear weapons (23 percent), pollution and the environment (15 percent), and AIDS and other diseas (7 percent). Europe, which was also hard hit by the Great Recession and whose leaders have since embarked on an agenda of economic austerity, joined the U.S. in seeing economic inequality as the top global threat:

The findings are part of Pew's spring 2014 Global Attitudes poll. Earlier this month, Pew unveiled data from the survey showing that a plurality of Americans support raising taxes as a means of combating economic inequality.

The percentage of Americans naming inequality as the top global threat has increased sharply since the Great Recession. In 2007, just 17 percent of Americans told Pew that they considered inequality the biggest threat.

Pew did find a partisan divide in assessing global threats. While pluralities of Democrats (35 percent) and independents (25 percent) picked inequality as the top threat, a 35 percent plurality of Republicans chose religious and ethnic hatred. Among members of the GOP, inequality ranked third, at 21 percent, just behind nuclear weapons (25 percent).

Although Americans see inequality as a huge social and economic problem, studies show that they underestimate how extensive it is. Pundits like Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman have cited such studies to explain why so little political progress has been made in tackling the problem.

By Luke Brinker

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Economic Inequality Economics Great Recession Income Inequality Paul Krugman Pew Research Center Polls