05/02/2007 - Support for government programs to help disadvantaged Americans, as well as sympathy for the plight of the poor, have surged since 1994 and returned to levels last seen in 1990 prior to welfare reform, with gains occurring among virtually every major social, political and demographic group.
Some of the biggest increases in concern for the needy have come from unexpected sources: political conservatives, Southern whites and older Americans. For example, in 1993, more than a quarter (28%) of self-described conservatives agreed with the statement, "The government should help more needy people even if it means going deeper into debt." Today, 48% of all conservatives are willing to accept deficit spending to help those who cannot help themselves.
At the same time, the proportion of Americans who sympathize with the plight of the nation's poor also has increased since 1994, rising in virtual lockstep with changing views on the need to expand the social safety net. Whites in particular seem to have had a change of heart - though that sentiment still fails to extend to a clear majority of whites: Today, 49% of whites say that the poor "have it hard," up from just 35% in 1994. The share of whites who say the poor "have it easy" because of government assistance programs has meanwhile dropped from 56% to 37%.
Taken together, these changes have pushed support for government assistance to the disadvantaged up to where it stood in the late 1980s, well before Republicans won control of Congress in 1994.
Read the full report Polls Find A Surge in Support for Social Safety Net on the Pew Research Center Web site.