Measures of support for a government social safety net continue to show some of the largest divides in partisan opinions; as they have historically, a substantial majority of Democrats say that it is the government’s responsibility “to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves” (77%) while only 46% of Republicans take that view. Similarly, the 2009 Pew Research Center values survey finds that most Democrats take the view that the government should “guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep” (79%), and that the government should help more of those in need, “even if it means going deeper in debt” (65%). Not only do Republicans support the social safety net at much lower rates, but that support has declined somewhat in recent years. While they now are divided on the question of whether the government has an obligation to those who cannot care for themselves (46% agree, 47% disagree), in 2007, a majority of Republicans (58%) agreed that it did. On other social safety net questions, Republican opinion has also declined or remained stable. With such large partisan divisions, the views of independents often drive the direction of public opinion overall. Over the last two years, independents have become considerably more conservative in their views of a government safety net, with support dropping to the levels last seen in the mid-1990s. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.