By Alex Dobuzinskis
(Reuters) - Americans believe that there is more conflict between rich and poor than between immigrants and the native born or between blacks and whites, said a Pew Research Center opinion survey released on Wednesday.
Researchers found 30 percent of Americans say there are "very strong conflicts" between the poor and the rich, which is the largest share expressing that opinion since the question was first asked in 1987, the Pew report said.
Democrats, younger adults, women and blacks were the most likely to say they perceived signs of class conflict, researchers found.
The survey release comes as President Barack Obama appears poised to make income inequality, and his plans for reducing it, an important element of his re-election campaign this year. In a major speech delivered in Kansas last month, Obama said the middle class is at a "make-or-break moment."
The Republican presidential candidates have faulted Obama for failing to jump-start the economy and reduce the nation's unemployment rate of 8.5 percent.
Anti-Wall Street protests known as the Occupy movement, which have spread across the United States, have led to more public debate about income inequality, the report said.
The most recent U.S. Census Bureau data shows the proportion of overall wealth held by the top 10 percent of the population increased from 49 percent in 2005 to 56 percent in 2009, the report said.
A study also released on Wednesday by Indiana University said 46.2 million Americans were living in poverty in 2010, compared to 36.5 million in 2006. The rise in poverty coincides with the major recession from late 2007 to 2009, and slow economic growth since then.
In all, 66 percent of respondents to the Pew survey said there are either "very strong" or "strong" conflicts between rich and poor.
By comparison, 62 percent of Americans say immigrants and the native born have strong conflicts with each other, compared with 47 percent in 2009, the Pew Center said. In the 2009 survey, a larger share of Americans believed there were conflicts over immigrants than over wealth.
The new survey suggested racial conflict is ebbing with only 38 percent of respondents saying there are serious conflicts between blacks and whites and 34 percent said such disagreements exist between the young and the old.
The Pew Center said the results do not necessarily mean more Americans believe the wealthy are at fault for a class divide, since some individuals who see more conflict may believe anger at the wealthy is misdirected.
The Pew survey further found that 46 percent of Americans believe the rich got their wealth from knowing the right people or being born into the right families, while 43 percent said wealth came from hard work, ambition or education.
Pew said its report was based on findings from a telephone survey of 2,048 adults conducted from December 6 to December 19. Pew is an independent research organization that does some surveys.
(Editing by Greg McCune)
(Reporting By Alex Dobuzinskis)