What's More Important for Success: Hard Work or Luck?


The recent Reason-Rupe poll asked respondents more than just about their political views, but also about their values and perceptions of society. Presumably, we should expect these views to correlate with or underlie their policy preferences and political group identification.

Tea Party Supporters, Democrats, Pure Independents, and non-Tea Party Republicans vary substantially in their assumptions and values. Sixty six percent of Tea Party supporters believe that wealth in society can grow so there is enough for everyone, yet 59 percent of Democrats believe that people usually get rich at the expense of others. Sixty one percent of Republicans agree with Tea Partiers compared to 34 percent who agree with Democrats. Fifty six percent of Pure Independents agree with Democrats and 38 percent agree with Tea Partiers and Republicans.


Significant differences also emerge across the four derived political groups (read here for group descriptions). Sixty seven percent of libertarians and 70 percent of conservatives believe wealth can grow; in contrast, 70 percent of liberals and 54 percent of communitarians believe people get rich at the expense of others.

A majority of all groups agree that hard work is the most important thing for getting ahead, but substantially more Tea Partiers and Republicans agree. Eighty nine percent of Tea Partiers and 86 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans believe wealth is most important for getting ahead; 74 percent of Democrats agree, and pure Independents are right in the middle at 80 percent. Among ideological groups, 28 percent of liberals believe that luck is more important than hard work for getting ahead, compared to 5 percent of conservatives, 9 percent of libertarians, and 16 percent of communitarians. Overall, this demonstrates that American culture is grounded in the belief that if people work hard they can get ahead.

Majorities also believe that if one had to choose between teaching their children between working hard and being self-reliant or learning to share with others, they would teach their kids to work hard and be self-reliant. Yet Tea Partiers and non-Tea Party Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats and Pure Independents to agree. Seventy one percent of Tea Partiers and 74 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans say it would be better to teach kids how to work hard and be self-reliant. Fifty six percent of Democrats and 65 percent of Pure Independents agree. Interestingly, 40 percent of liberals and 35 percent of communitarians believe it is more important to teach children to share with others than to be self-reliant, compared to 17 percent of libertarians and 19 percent of conservatives.

There are also demographic differences over beliefs about whether wealth can grow so there is enough for everyone or if people get rich at the expense of others. There are significant differences among racial groups: A majority of Caucasians believe wealth can grow so there's enough for everyone, but 60 percent of African-Americans and 55 percent of Latinos believe people generally get rich at the expense of others. Asians are fairly evenly divided with a majority believing people generally get rich at the expense of others. Substantial differences emerged across income groups. Higher income Americans are much more likely than lower income Americans to believe that wealth can grow enough for everyone.


Asking questions about values allows respondents to step outside the political realm and consider basic values and assumptions that shape their worldview. Individuals do not need to be well versed on policy details to know whether they think hard work or luck matter most for getting ahead in society. Indeed, values and assumptions often underlie (or at least correlate with) policy beliefs once individuals learn policy information. For instance, if an individual believes that the U.S. economy is generally a fair meritocracy where individuals can primarily achieve success through hard work, and perseverance, policies aimed at redistributing the rewards of work and perseverance may seem less sensible. However, if one believes that life's success is primarily the result of luck, fortune, and natural endowments (family born into, natural talents, etc.) then redistributive policies may seem fair.

Another method of gleaning values is to ask questions about child-rearing. (Please see Stenner p. 23-24 for a brief discussion; see Kohn for discussion of the development of measures of childrearing values.) This method asks respondents what qualities they consider most important when raising a child, typically by asking respondents to choose between pairs of desirable attributes (Stenner). Desirable attributes would line up on a scale, with autonomy on one end and conformity on the other; however, other scales can also be used. These values and assumptions also underlie (or correlate) with policy beliefs.

Methodology Notes

  • Pure Independnets do not include Democratic or Republican leaners.
  • Republican and Democratic leaners have been added to Republicans and Democrats respectively.
  • Tea Party includes those who say they are a supporter of the movement.
  • Republicans, Democrats, and Independents are those who self identify, and say they are not Tea Party supporters.

Click here for full survey results.

Survey Methods

The Reason-Rupe Q3 2011 poll collected a nationally representative sample of 1200 respondents, aged 18 and older from all 50 states and the District of Columbia using live telephone interviews from August 9th-18th 2011. The margin of sampling error for this poll is ± 3 percent. The margin of error for the GOP presidential race numbers is ± 4.79%. Interviews were conducted with respondents using both landline (790) and mobile phones (410). Landline respondents were randomly selected within households based on the adult who had the most recent birthday. Sample was weighted by gender, age, ethnicity, and Census region, based on the most recent US Census data. The sampling frame included landline and mobile phone numbers generated using Random Digit Dialing (RDD) methods and randomly selected numbers from a directory-listed sample. Click here for full methodological details. NSON Opinion Strategy conducted the poll's fieldwork. View full methodology.

NEXT: The Era of Big Government Is Not Over

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  1. who u blow, not what ja know…u betcha!

  2. So losers believe they can’t get ahead, and that they can only try to get a piece of a fixed pie controlled by others.

    And losers tend to be liberal.

    No shock there.

    1. really? aren’t [DA LUB-RAHLS] wealthy latte-sipping elites who distain the prols?

      1. and limos! dont forget TEH LIMOS !

        1. They are the very wealthy who don’t want competition, and the dumb poor who want bread and circuses.

          1. Please don’t feed the retarded troll. Nothing good ever comes of it.

    2. Breaking news, liberals are dumb.

      They also flock to the jobs that really do come at the expense of others – government jobs.

  3. So minorities tend to be economically illiterate- considering our public education system and the pablum they are fed by their “leaders”, I am not surprised.

  4. Well, we’re not really combating a broad public perception or liberal argument that hard work doesn’t produce success.

    You see some of that in human interest articles in connection with the recession, but in general when talking about so-called systemic problems, the liberal critique these days runs more along the lines of, “But how can you work 12 hours a day if you’re a single mom?” or “But no one will give you a chance to work hard if you’re an illiterate ex-con.”

    Because the notion that you might, you know, refrain from becoming a single mom is not one of the choices here.

    1. It isn’t murder to chloroform your kid. So what’s the excuse now?

  5. Sad, but something I think everyone could have guessed correctly at, if asked.

    Most without think they are without because of the actions of those with.

  6. “yet 59 percent of Democrats believe that people usually get rich at the expense of others”

    Only 59%? This is my surprised face.

    1. it worked for us!

  7. Really good poll questions here. Sad that so many are in the “fixed pie” group, and that 46% is our biggest problem in shrinking gov’t.

  8. Yes, I’ve made all my money by repressing others and taking their money from them. Tough noogies, bitches.

    *polishes monocle*

    1. When you make your living off of the wages of others as a government stooge, you tend to think that the entire world works that way.

  9. Do you think I could earn my own self-made fortune by writing your dumb-assed non-sensical poll questions for you? How much do you pay?

    Here’s my portfolio:

    “Some people think barrels are made by a cooper, while other people think barrels are made of wood and metal hoops. Which is more true?”

    “Some people think you need a car to drive at highway speeds. Other people think you need a paved road. Which is more true?”

  10. More proof that libertarians are really mostly just conservatives.

    1. Any libertarian who did not say “this is a stupid fucking question” then hung up the phone is no libertarian.

    2. I thought it was “Republicans that smoke pot?”

  11. What’s More Important for Success: Hard Work or Luck?

    What a stupid fucking question.

    Hey how about being smart? There are plenty of ways to work hard and not get anywhere and the chances of winning the lottery may as well be zero.

    Why is being smart with your time and money not even included in the question when it is the most obvious reason for success?

    1. The question tests a belief in whether effort pays off. You are either smart or you are not; you can’t do anything about that, but you can choose to work hard or not.

    2. “What a stupid fucking question.

      Hey how about being smart? There are plenty of ways to work hard and not get anywhere and the chances of winning the lottery may as well be zero.

      Why is being smart with your time and money not even included in the question when it is the most obvious reason for success?”

      Obviously if you run out in your yard and dig holes and fill them in again, no one would claim it helps your internet business succeed. So clearly when people say “hard work” they inherently include not being a dipshit about how you do that work, and hence there’s no need to drill down in the blatantly obvious.

  12. Well, it is heartening to see that the vast majority of all Americans believe that hard work is the key to success over luck or who you know.

    Frankly, I’m surprised at the numbers (68% of liberals agree?).

    1. I’m puzzled at the fact that 68% of liberals agree that people mainly get ahead by hard work, but 70% say people get rich at the expense of others. I guess liberals think rich folks work hard to rip off other people.

  13. These are in theory quantifiable. “American dream” propaganda may be a large contributor to our country’s inability to fully join the civilized world. Luck has much more of a role than Americans of any political stripe are willing to acknowledge.

    Even the drive to succeed could be an expression of genetic predisposition.

    1. If luck played a significant role, there would be a non-trivial number of people who got rich despite being lazy.

    2. If you don’t take risks you will never even have opportunities to be “lucky”.

      If you don’t work hard, when you take risks you chances of getting lucky will be far far worse. And you will piss away whatever resources you risked.

      “Luck” is the word the ignorant use to describe things they don’t understand. “Genetics” is often used for the same purpose as well..

    3. Oh Fuck!! Not Tony again.

      Even the need to say stupidshit could be an expression of “small penis syndrome”.

      Please respond with “takes one to know one”. Please.

  14. But not sufficient.

    Also, what percent believe in angels?

  15. False Dichotomy.

    Why was, “Nepotism” or, “Bribing Public Officials”, not among the options?

    Or, “The fact that a vast majority of the public are drooling idiots allows the remainder to easily be successful selling them crap like pet rocks, ‘organic’ dish soap, Michael Bay films, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Tom Friedman editorials.., etc.”

    1. You don’t have to accept that those are the only two possibilities to choose which is the more important one between the two choices.

  16. Right-wing libertarians are people with little appreciation of the role luck has played in their lives.

  17. Right-wing libertarians are people with little appreciation of the role luck has played in their lives.

  18. I would say the questions were a bit too cut and dried. In my case, I believe hard work is more important than luck for success in a well-run capitalist system where there’s not too much corruption and cronyism. In any socialist system, however, luck does tend to be more important than hard work, since socialist systems are always coming up with reasons to confiscate anything your hard work brings you in order to give it to someone else with better government connections.

    How successful either luck or hard work will make you also depends on what kind of “luck” and “hard work” we’re discussing here. A lot of the “lucky” people in socialist systems are those who happened to be connected to the most powerful government officials by birth or other chance circumstance. (Some also make their own “luck” by cozying up to and flattering such officials.) Likewise, making connections to such officials (or “networking” as it’s called so euphemistically these days) and currying favor with them can be a kind of hard work unto itself.

    Hence, even people who believe all wealth comes at the expense of others might answer that “hard work” is more important than luck. (Hey, do you have any idea what hard it is convincing people they owe you a living? Well, do you!?)

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