Social Safety Net: Why do parties disagree so much? it the responsibility of government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves?
Should the government help needy people even if it adds to the national debt? Should the government guarantee that that all citizens have enough to eat and a place to sleep?

If you said yes to these questions, the chances are you are a Democrat or lean that way. If you said no, you’re a Republican or lean that way. Republicans and Democrats have always disagreed about the government’s responsibility to help the needy, but the differences have never been as stark as they are now.

During the past 25 years, one of the sharpest trends has been views about the government and the social safety net, according to the Pew Research Center’s continuing American Values survey. In 1987, majorities of Democrats and Republicans believed the government should help those who can’t take care of themselves. There were differences, of course, but there was more agreement than disagreement. About eight in ten Democrats said the government should take care of the needy, compared to six in ten Republicans. In 2012, the gap widened: 75% of Democrats still believed this was the government’s responsibility, but only 40% of Republicans agreed with them.

The differences are even bigger when it comes to increasing the debt in order to help the needy. Twenty-five years ago, 64% of Democrats said that it was OK if the debt increased if it helped the needy; in 2012, about the same proportion of Democrats said the same. Only 20% of Republicans today agree that it’s the government’s role to help the needy even if it increases the debt, compared to 39% in 1987.

The views of both Republicans and Democrats have fluctuated on these matters, but Democrats have wavered less over the years. Republicans, in contrast, have dramatically shifted their views in the last 25 years.

Why are Republicans so opposed to government responsibility for the needy?

Why have Democrats remained supporters of this role of government?

What is your view on these issues?

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Originally published at, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.

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