Americans are more open to socialism than ever
“If you’re not a liberal at twenty-five, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative at thirty-five, you don’t have a brain. Winston Churchill never said those words. But, if they continue to live on as a popular slogan, it’s probably because they capture a common attitude about the correlation between political idealism and age. Young people, at least this is what this story tells, are invariably drawn to novelty and transgression of progressive or even radical ideas – a disposition that generally dissipates with age. There is a decidedly unsubtle condescending implication here, the idea being that conservatism is obtained through experience and is therefore synonymous with maturity.
Anecdotally, at least, there are real reasons people assume politicization works this way – including the trajectory of the generation that began to come of age in the 1960s. The real empirical evidence, however , suggest much more variation in the political values (and voting habits) of young, old and middle-aged people. In 1980, Ronald Reagan essentially drew Jimmy Carter when it comes to voters between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine – winning the same demographic in a landslide after reflection four years later. Margaret Thatcher actually got more support in her 1983 election rout from people between the ages of thirty-five and forty-four than those over sixty-five and also won over 40 percent of the vote. for the first time.
The formation of political identity is ultimately much more complicated than implied by the often assumed trajectory of juvenile idealism to stubborn maturity. The collective experiences of particular generations and groups of people can make them more or less radical or conservative depending on the circumstances. In this regard, the findings of a new Axios / Momentive survey are striking but in many ways unsurprising.
Conducted in mid-June among more than two thousand adults over the age of eighteen, the first result of the survey is that only half of Americans (49%) between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four now have a positive view of capitalism – a dizzying drop from just two years ago, when the figure was about 20 points higher. Of those eighteen to twenty-four, only 42 percent now have a positive view of capitalism, while 54 percent have a negative view. Even Republicans in the same age bracket have shown a similar trend: the share that currently views capitalism in a favorable light is now 66% (up from 81% in January 2019).
Overall, there has been a slight increase in the percentage of Americans with a favorable view of socialism – one fueled, according to Axios’ survey, primarily by black Americans and women. Here, the image is a bit more textured and ambiguous:
While perceptions of capitalism changed rapidly among young adults, perceptions of socialism changed more gradually across all age groups. Slightly fewer young adults today than in 2019 say they have a positive view of socialism (51% today compared to 55% in 2019). But this decline is offset by slight increases in the number of adults aged 35 to 64 and 65 and over who report a favorable view of socialism.
Despite an overall increase, perceptions favorable to socialism remain in the minority (41% positive against 52% negative). However, the picture gets even more complicated when broken down into specific questions. This should come as no surprise, given the stigma successfully attached to the word during the Cold War. For example, 66% of Americans agree that the federal government should legislate on policies aimed at closing the gap between the poor and the rich (again, there has been a surprising change among young Republicans here: There is two years, only 40% were in favor of such Today, the figure is 56%.) This is consistent with other polls showing majority levels of support for policies like Medicare for All and various new taxes on the rich – even those who are not inclined to “socialism” as a broad signifier are keenly aware of many of the things socialists advocate these days.
Across all age groups, but especially among young people, it is easy to understand why the general views of Americans on capitalism have deteriorated amid a renewed interest in social democratic politics and socialism as a wide alternative. The coronavirus pandemic, much like the financial crisis of 2008-9, has once again underscored how hierarchical, unfair and often brutal the current political and economic consensus is. Millions of people are burdened with student debt as they face grim employment prospects. Rents are skyrocketing. As millions more face a brutal and precarious job market, the wealth of billionaires has grown dramatically.
When the system around them is so blatantly dysfunctional, people intuitively search for alternatives. The bottom line, according to Felix Salmon of Axios: “Politicians who seek to attack opponents to their left can no longer use the word ‘socialist’ as a general pejorative. More and more, it is worn as a badge of pride.