Young People More Likely To Favor Socialism Than 
Capitalism: Pew
Alexander Eichler
The Huffington Post
December 29, 2011

Young people -- the collegiate and post-college crowd,
who have served as the most visible face of the Occupy
Wall Street movement -- might be getting more
comfortable with socialism. That's the surprising result
from a Pew Research Center poll that aims to measure
American sentiments toward different political labels.

The poll, published Wednesday, found that while
Americans overall tend to oppose socialism by a strong
margin -- 60 percent say they have a negative view of
it, versus just 31 percent who say they have a positive
view -- socialism has more fans than opponents among the
18-29 crowd. Forty-nine percent of people in that age
bracket say they have a positive view of socialism; only
43 percent say they have a negative view.

And while those numbers aren't very far apart, it's
noteworthy that they were reversed just 20 months ago,
when Pew conducted a similar poll. In that survey,
published May 2010, 43 percent of people age 18-29 said
they had a positive view of socialism, and 49 percent
said their opinion was negative.

It's not clear why young people have evidently begun to
change their thinking on socialism. In the past several
years, the poor economy has had any number of effects on
young adults -- keeping them at home with their parents,
making it difficult for them to get jobs, and likely
depressing their earning potential for years to come --
that might have dampened enthusiasm for the free market
among this crowd.

Indeed, the Pew poll also found that just 46 percent of
people age 18-29 have positive views of capitalism, and
47 percent have negative views -- making this the only
age group where support for socialism outweighs support
for capitalism.

Young people have also been among the most involved in
the nationwide Occupy movement, whose members have
leveled pointed criticism at the capitalist ethos and
often called for a more equal distribution of American

In general, income inequality -- which a Congressional
Budget Office report recently pointed out is at historic
levels -- has received more and more attention in
politics and the media since the Occupy movement
launched in mid-September. Usage of the term rose
dramatically in news coverage following the start of the
protests, and politicians from Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid to President Barack Obama have used the
movement's language to describe divisions in the
American public.

Still, the nationwide Occupy demonstrations
notwithstanding, socialism doesn't score very well in
other age groups in the Pew poll, or across other
demographic categories.

Pew broke down its results by age, race, income and
political affiliation, as well as support for the Occupy
Wall Street and Tea Party movements. There were only two
other groups among whom socialism's positives outweighed
its negatives -- blacks, who say they favor socialism 55
to 36 percent, and liberal Democrats, who say they favor
socialism 59 to 39 percent. These were also the only two
groups to show net favor for socialism in the 2010 poll.

Little Change in Public's Response to 'Capitalism,' 
A Political Rhetoric Test
Pew Research Center for the People & the Press
December 28, 2011


The recent Occupy Wall Street protests have focused
public attention on what organizers see as the excesses
of America's free market system, but perceptions of
capitalism - and even of socialism - have changed little
since early 2010 despite the recent tumult.

The American public's take on capitalism remains mixed,
with just slightly more saying they have a positive
(50%) than a negative (40%) reaction to the term. That's
largely unchanged from a 52% to 37% balance of opinion
in April 2010.

Socialism is a negative for most Americans, but
certainly not all. Six-in-ten (60%) say they have a
negative reaction to the word; 31% have a positive
reaction. Those numbers are little changed from when the
question was last asked in April 2010.

Of these terms, socialism is the more politically
polarizing - the reaction is almost universally negative
among conservatives, while generally positive among
liberals. While there are substantial differences in how
liberals and conservatives think of capitalism, the gaps
are far narrower. Most notably, liberal Democrats and
Occupy Wall Street supporters are as likely to view
capitalism positively as negatively. And even among
conservative Republicans and Tea Party supporters there
is a significant minority who react negatively to

These are among the findings of the latest national
survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the
Press, conducted Dec. 7-11, 2011 among 1,521 adults that
tests reactions to words frequently used in current
political discourse. Another term in the news,
libertarian, continues to receive a mixed public
reaction: 38% have a positive view, 37% negative, and
nearly a quarter (24%) have no opinion either way.
Interestingly, some of the most positive views of
libertarianism come from groups on both the left and the
right of the political spectrum. People who agree with
the Tea Party movement see libertarianism positively by
a 51% to 36% margin, as do liberal Democrats by a 47% to
32% margin. And while the word libertarian receives a
very positive reaction from younger Americans, older
people tend to view it negatively.

Both of the ideological descriptions used most
frequently in American politics - conservative and
liberal - receive more positive than negative reactions
from the American public. But the positives for
conservative (62%) are higher than for liberal (50%).
This gap mainly reflects the balance of what people call
themselves; more people consistently call themselves
conservative than liberal in public opinion polling.
Those who think of themselves as politically "moderate"
give similarly positive assessments to both words.

As many Democratic strategists have argued, the term
progressive receives a far more positive reaction from
the American public than the term liberal (67% vs 50%),
though the difference is primarily among Republicans.

`Socialism' and `Capitalism'

The term capitalism elicits more positive (50%) than
negative (40%) reactions from the American public, but
not by much. And while Americans of different incomes
and ideological perspectives offer different opinions on
capitalism, the divides are not as wide as on other
terms measured.

More affluent Americans, as well as conservative
Republicans, are more likely to offer positive than
negative reactions to capitalism by two-to-one. And
among people who agree with the Tea Party movement, 71%
view capitalism positively.  Yet within each of these
groups, a quarter or more say they have a negative
reaction to capitalism.

Notably, liberal Democrats and supporters of the Occupy
Wall Street movement are not overtly critical of
capitalism. In fact, as many offer positive as negative
reactions in each of these groups.

By contrast, socialism is a far more divisive word, with
wide differences of opinion along racial, generational,
socioeconomic and political lines. Fully nine-in-ten
conservative Republicans (90%) view socialism
negatively, while nearly six-in-ten liberal Democrats
(59%) react positively. Low-income Americans are twice
as likely as higher-income Americans to offer a positive
assessment of socialism (43% among those with incomes
under $30,000, 22% among those earning $75,000 or more).

People under age 30 are divided in their views of both
capitalism and socialism. But to Americans age 65 and
older, socialism is clearly a negative (72%), not a
positive (13%), term. 

Mixed Views of `Libertarian'

The American public remains divided over the word
libertarian, with 38% offering a positive reaction, 37%
a negative reaction, and 24% offering that they don't
have a reaction either way.

The steepest divide in reactions to the term libertarian
are not political but generational.  By a 50% to 28%
margin, people under age 30 have more positive than
negative feelings toward the term libertarian. Views are
more split among those age 30-64, while those age 65 and
older offer more negative (43%) than positive (25%)

Overall, there is only a small partisan divide when it
comes to views of libertarianism - Republicans offer
slightly more negative reactions than do Democrats or
independents (45% vs. 35% and 37%, respectively).
Independents have more positive reactions (44%) than
either Republicans (34%) or Democrats (36%).

Liberal Democrats offer relatively positive assessments
of libertarianism - 47% have a positive reaction and
just 32% have a negative reaction. This is matched by
the positive ratings among people who agree with the Tea
Party movement - by a 51% to 36% margin they react
positively to the word libertarian. 

`Conservative' and `Liberal'

Republicans see the terms conservative and liberal in
particularly stark terms. By an 89% to 8% margin they
view the former positively, and by a 70% to 20% margin
they view the latter negatively. Democrats are not as
universal in their views. By a 68% to 22% margin they
have a positive reaction to the word liberal, and at the
same time they are equally likely to have a positive as
a negative reaction to the word conservative (47% vs.

There is a sharp difference by age when it comes to the
word liberal - while 61% of people under age 30 react
positively, just 34% of those age 65 and older say the
same. By contrast, reactions to the word conservative
are almost identical across all age groups.

Public reactions to the word progressive are far more
favorable than to the word liberal; two-thirds have a
positive reaction to the former compared with just half
for the latter. There is very little difference among
Democrats - who view both terms favorably.  The largest
difference is among Republicans most (55%) of whom have
a positive reaction to the word progressive, and a
negative (70%) reaction to the word liberal.

About the Survey

The analysis in this report is based on telephone
interviews conducted December 7-11, 2011 among a
national sample of 1,521 adults, 18 years of age or
older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of
Columbia (914 respondents were interviewed on a landline
telephone, and 607 were interviewed on a cell phone,
including 284 who had no landline telephone). The survey
was conducted by interviewers at Princeton Data Source
under the direction of Princeton Survey Research
Associates International. A combination of landline and
cell phone random digit dial samples were used; both
samples were provided by Survey Sampling International.
Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish.
Respondents in the landline sample were selected by
randomly asking for the youngest adult male or female
who is now at home. Interviews in the cell sample were
conducted with the person who answered the phone, if
that person was an adult 18 years of age or older. For
detailed information about our survey methodology, see

The combined landline and cell phone sample are weighted
using an iterative technique that matches gender, age,
education, race, Hispanic origin, region, and population
density to parameters from the March 2010 Census
Bureau's Current Population Survey. The sample also is
weighted to match current patterns of telephone status
and relative usage of landline and cell phones (for
those with both), based on extrapolations from the 2010
National Health Interview Survey. The weighting
procedure also accounts for the fact that respondents
with both landline and cell phones have a greater
probability of being included in the combined sample and
adjusts for household size within the landline sample.
Sampling errors and statistical tests of significance
take into account the effect of weighting. The following
table shows the sample sizes and the error attributable
to sampling that would be expected at the 95% level of
confidence for different groups in the survey:

Sample sizes and sampling errors for other subgroups are
available upon request.

In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind
that question wording and practical difficulties in
conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the
findings of opinion polls.


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