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Opportunity Lost? Americans’ Faith in Getting Ahead Sinks

The Exchange

The number of Americans who believe the nation offers "plenty of opportunity" to succeed has fallen sharply since the late 1990s, with just over half of us now liking our chances to get ahead, one prominent polling group said Friday.

In this Oct. 4, 2011 photo, prospective employees and vendors attend a job fair, in San Antonio.: Credit AP

According to findings from Gallup, 52% of Americans today are confident in the economic prospects available in the United States. The last time the poll was taken in 2011, 57% of respondents felt good about opportunity in America. In 1998, 81% of those surveyed said the country provided ample room for an individual to move upward.

The question posed to participants was: "Some people say there's not much opportunity in America today -- that the average person doesn't have much chance to really get ahead. Others say there's plenty of opportunity, and anyone who works hard can go as far as they want. Which one comes closer to the way you feel about this?"

In response, 52% said there was "plenty of opportunity," while 43% said there was "not much opportunity." Asked also whether the economic system of the world's largest economy was "basically fair," 50% said it was, but 44% said it was "basically unfair." About 5% had no opinion.

One's political leanings influenced the results. Two-thirds of Republicans (67%) believe the American system is fair, vs. 31% of GOP respondents who said it wasn't. Among Democrats, 38% said the system was fair, whereas 54% said it was unfair. Independents favored the fair choice over the unfair option by 52% to 43%.

As with the question regarding opportunity, both are down from 1998. In the polling 15 years ago, 81% of Republicans said the economic system of the U.S. was fair, and 58% of Democrats agreed.

The results were gathered from telephone interviews conducted Sept. 25-Oct. 2.