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.