Monday, November 12, 2012

Socialist Youth

John Hinderaker, a conservative blogger, says "to me, the most telling incident of the campaign season was a poll that found that among young Americans, socialism enjoys a higher favorability rating than free enterprise."  The last poll I could find asking about "free enterprise" was in 2010, when 86% Americans said they had a positive reaction to "free enterprise."  It was actually higher (over 90%) among people aged 18-29.  However, there is a Pew survey from 2011 that asked for reactions to "socialism" and "capitalism"; among people aged 18-29, 52% had a favorable reaction to socialism and 47% had a favorable reaction to capitalism.

  There were big differences in the reaction to "socialism":

              positive   negative
18-29      52%            46%
30-44      38%            58%
45-64      26%            70%
65+         15%            82%

Age differences in the reaction to "capitalism" were much smaller:

             positive   negative

18-29      47%            49%
30-44      54%            42%
45-64      55%            42%
65+         60%            38%

Hinderaker offers an explanation, which is that  the "educational system, the entertainment industry, the news media and every cultural institution that comes to mind are all dedicated to turning out liberals."  But people with college degrees (and even graduate degrees) are slightly less likely to have a positive reaction to "socialism" and considerably more likely to have a positive reaction to "capitalism." 

 Paul Krugman suggests an alternative:  "after decades in which right-wingers have attacked long-established institutions — Social Security, progressive taxation, unemployment insurance — as 'socialism,' a lot of young people now believe them, and think that this 'socialism' thing really isn’t so bad." That sounds plausible:  a related point is that many older people probably associate "socialism" with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. 


  1. As between those two, I'm quite confident that Hinderaker's opinions, even if sometimes dyspeptic, are more evidence-based than Krugman's.

    It may be so that people with college degrees have less positive reactions to "socialism" and more positive reactions to "capitalism" than the general public does, but the "educational system" (even if limited to the higher educational system) is only one of the institutions Hinderaker cites - the entertainment industry and the news media have substantially greater penetration among the general public than the higher educational system does.

    And as for Krugman's caricature of "right-wing" arguments - I'd bet a lot of money that those few fringe conservatives who call progressive taxation and unemployment insurance "socialism" have no audience whatsoever among the young people in the Pew survey who favor socialism.

    1. Now that I think about it, neither argument seems particularly relevant to age difference.
      Both old and young people are exposed to the entertainment industry and the news media, and both have had a chance to hear people denounce the welfare state as socialism. So even if they affect views of "socialism" they should affect all age groups about equally.

      That leaves the association of socialism with the USSR as the most likely explanation of the age differences. Or it could be an effect of age itself, with socialism appealing to the idealism of youth. But political opinions don't generally change much with age, so I doubt that's the explanation.