Survey evidence suggests Americans are generally conflict theorists

A few years ago I published something on Reddit in which I argued that perspectives on politics could be divided in two: those who believe that political controversies represent one or both sides making a mistake about what is in their own interests -which I termed mistake theorists-, and those that believe that political controversies represent an objective divergence in interests –which I termed conflict theorists after the related view in sociology. Scott Alexander made a post expanding on the distinction (although we have some subtle differences of opinion on the matter, but that’s for another post).

But how common are each of these views in general society? I happened by chance across some data from 2008 in the American general social survey which would tend to suggest that most Americans are conflict theorists, in the form of their responses to the following question:

Do you agree or disagree . . .
C. Inequality continues to exist because it benefits the rich and powerful.

In 2008, 56% said agree or strongly agree, 20% said neither agree nor disagree and 24% said disagree or strongly disagree. There was an almost identical profile of responses in 2000. Although the question isn’t quite ‘conflict theory, yay or nay’, I’d argue that it’s pretty hard to answer this question in the affirmative without being a supporter of conflict theory.

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