A new poll from the Pew Research Center covering how people feel about various political terms shows that while little has changed over the past year and a half, many people may still be surprised to see how Americans feel about terms like "capitalism" and "socialism." Perhaps the most surprising finding is that for the first time, young people are choosing socialism over capitalism.
The Pew Survey Results
The new survey, which you can read about on the Pew Research Center website, follows a similar survey released in May of 2010. When taken together, both surveys show some results that most Americans would find interesting. While 60 percent of Americans view socialism in a negative light, versus 31 percent who view it positively, only 50 percent view capitalism in a favorable light, versus 40 percent who view it negatively. Interestingly, both the terms "conservative" and "progressive" scored very favorably, with 62 percent and 67 percent, respectively, of the people claiming to view the terms positively.
When the results of the survey are broken down by demographics, perhaps the most interesting finding is just how mixed people tend to be. Even in the most divisive block of people, conservative republicans older than 65, a sizable minority react positively to socialism and negatively to capitalism. When even less caustic terms for the left are used, like "liberal," negative reactions get significantly less pronounced.
The Young Choose Socialism Over Capitalism
One of the only statistics to change significantly from the previous survey is that of how people under 30 view socialism. While only 49 percent of the respondents view socialism favorably, for the first time that number is higher than those who view the term negatively. Those positive and negative numbers are also better for socialism than they are for capitalism.
There may be a few reasons for this shift towards viewing socialism in a positive light, most notably the Occupy Wall Street movement, which, while now appearing deflated or defeated (depending on your viewpoint), brought the ideas of social and economic justice into living rooms around the country as this Huffington Post article points out. Additionally, access to information allows young people to make a more informed decision regarding world views that their elders may view negatively. Finally, in times of economic hardship there's a much greater opportunity for people to develop negative reactions toward those who aren't affected as much, and the system that allows them to profit.
It's fairly well-known that people shift to the right as they get older and acquire wealth, but these poll numbers show something more than just a generational gap. While as a whole the country still favors capitalism, that divide is slowly decreasing. This may, eventually, open the door for a more honest discussion on socialism as a whole and the government's role in the economy.