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 wealth.
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
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 capitalism.
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
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
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%) reactions.
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
`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 http://people-press.org/methodology/
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
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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