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Do the poor have it easy? Pew's controversial study

A new report from Pew Research found that the majority of the most financially secure Americans think that "poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return."

The study, released Thursday, also found that more than half of the most financially secure Americans said the "government can't afford to do more for the needy," with only about one-third responding that the poor "have hard lives because government benefits don't go far enough to help them live decently."

The findings have struck a chord on the Web, spawning multiple headlines about the greedy, poor-bashing rich. It is ironic, after all, that in a recovery that's largely benefited the wealthy, the people of privilege say the poor "have it easy."

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A closer look at the data, however, shows that the wealthy are not alone in their criticism of government handouts.

First, let's take the notion of the "financially secure." Pew doesn't divide its findings by wealth or income levels, though income does play a role. Instead, the nonpartisan think tank also takes into account things such as whether the person has a savings account or a credit card, as well as their employment status and whether they have trouble paying their bills.

What's more, only about a third of those labeled "financially secure" make more than $100,000 a year; 23 percent make less than $50,000 a year. That's hardly wealthy in most parts of America. Likewise, some of those making $100,000 or more were included among the least financially secure.

The study examined responses from 3,154 people.

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Regarding questions about the poor, it wasn't just the most financially secure to say the poor have it easy. Yes, 54 percent of those in this group responded that they do; but so did 47 percent of those who fell in the middle on this metric.

When asked about the statement that "poor people have hard lives" because of inadequate government benefits, 36 percent of the most financially secure agreed; so did 45 percent of those in the middle. By contrast, more than two-thirds of the least financially secure agreed.

So what does this all mean?

Well, branding all of the wealthy as tax-cutting, cash-hoarding, benefits-cutting conservatives is a bit simplistic.

According to the report, 36 percent of the most financially secure respondents are described as having "consistently liberal" or "mostly liberal" views. Fully 40 percent are described as "mostly conservative" or "consistently conservative," while another 24 percent are described as being "mixed" between liberal and conservatives.

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By party, 42 percent of the most secure Americans said they preferred Democratic candidates in 2014, while 49 percent preferred Republican. Among the least financially secure, 42 percent swung Democratic, while only 17 percent said they preferred the Republican candidate.

The political characteristic that makes the financially secure stand out most is participation. Nearly two-thirds of the people that fell into this category were likely to vote in 2014, while only 20 percent of the least financially secure were likely to do so.

As a result, the report concluded that "in 2014, the Democratic Party left far more potential votes 'on the table' than did the Republicans."