Friday, September 21, 2012

Socialist America

Sometime after President Obama's "you didn't build that" speech, I read an interview with Paul Ryan in which he said that it reflected a "collectivist" philosophy which had dominated the twentieth century (more precisely, the first 80 or so years), in which the government tried to plan all economic activity.    I don't remember the America of my youth as a centrally planned economy, but if I've learned one thing in my time as a sociologist, it's that opinions differ.  So I looked for data on what kind of system Americans thought they were living under.  The most directly relevant question is from 1965, when the Gallup Poll asked:  "Which one of these of these terms do you think most closely describes our economic system--capitalism, moderate socialism, pure socialism, or communism?"  36% said capitalism, 31% moderate socialism, 3% pure socialism,  1% communism, and 1% said something else.  You may have noticed that those don't add up to 100%:  27% said that they didn't know.  

The next question is how people who thought that we had a socialist (or communist) system felt about it.  For this analysis, I set aside people who said some other kind of system, and combined those who thought we had pure socialism or communism.  I kept people who said that they didn't know, since there were a lot of them. 

Unfortunately, there were only a few questions in the poll that seemed relevant.  One was whether "you would favor or oppose helping the railroads to improve their passenger service by government financial aid." 
                      Favor     Oppose      DK
Capitalism            32%        56%       11%
Moderate Socialism    40%        52%        8%
Socialism/Communism   40%        48%       12%
DK                    46%        35%       19%

People who believed that we were at least partly socialist were more likely to favor the "collectivist" opinion, but people who said they didn't know what kind of system we had were even more favorable.

Another question gave people a list of people who had been mentioned as possible Republican candidates for President and asked who would make "the best candidate for the Republican party in 1968?"  (Everyone was asked, not just Republicans).  I classified the names into three groups, moderate to liberal (e.g., John Lindsay, George Romney), conservative (e. g., Everett Dirksen, Richard Nixon), and very conservative (Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan). 

                     M/L       Conserv.     VC     DK          Capitalism           56%         24%        15%    5%
Moderate Socialism   56%         24%        17%    2%
Socialism/Communism  37%         27%        27%    9%
DK                   43%         26%        10%   21%

There was no discernible difference between people who thought we were living under capitalism or moderate socialism.  The small minority who thought we were living under socialism or communism had more conservative preferences, although even among them moderates and liberals got the largest share.

Finally, the survey asked people how they had voted in the 1964 election.

                      Johnson     Goldwater    Didn't        Capitalism              53%          21%        23%
Moderate Socialism      43%          29%        23%      
Socialism/Communism     40%          33%        24%       
DK                      47%          15%        33%

People who thought we had a socialist system were more likely to have voted for Goldwater, but the difference wasn't that big.

Overall, a lot of people thought that we had at least a degree of socialism, but they didn't seem all that worried about it.  Another point that came out was that the connection between views on government aid to the railroads and candidate preference was surprisingly small (at least to me).  40% of Johnson's voters were in favor, and 38% of Goldwater's. 

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