AbstractAlbeit middle-class citizens have generally been assumed to support democracy, studies investigating this class’s political attitudes using survey data have produced mixed results. This paper argues that one reason for these ambiguities is that the middle class may not be a homogenous group. Specifically, I explore how diverging perceptions of social mobility tend to condition political attitudes towards democracy within different social strata, particularly within the middle class. Drawing upon data from the South African Social Attitudes Survey, the article finds no strong evidence of any middle-class particularism in people’s opinions about democracy. Rather, the main difference in democratic attitudes and civic values is detected between those persistently locked in poverty and the rest of the population. Interestingly, the upwardly mobile ‘escapers’ and the ‘climbers’ show significantly higher levels of trust in public institutions and tend to display higher beliefs in voting as an effective tool to influence politics compared to both the persistently poor and the ‘anxious’ middle class, between whom no significant difference is found. These empirical findings demonstrate the limits to understanding people’s political attitudes in relation to their current standard of living alone.