A critical lever in the fight against poverty is to improve attitudes toward those living in poverty. Attempting to understand the factors that impact these attitudes, we ask: Does believing that meritocracy exists (descriptive meritocracy) sustain negative attitudes? Using cross-sectional (N = 301) and experimental (N = 439) methods, we found that belief in the United States as a meritocracy is associated with blaming people living in poverty and predicts negative attitudes toward them. Replicating and extending these findings, we experimentally manipulated beliefs in meritocracy and blame. Weakening American Dream beliefs predicted improved attitudes toward those in poverty. Understanding the nuanced role of belief systems in attitudes toward those in poverty provides strategies for promoting more positive thoughts and feelings.

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Copyright © 2021. This article first appeared in Social Psychology Quarterly, Vol 84, Issue 3, 2021.

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