Saturday, July 30, 2011

Out of the mainstream

In 1974, a Gallup poll asked:  

In which of these nations would you prefer to live: in a
nation where all business is owned and operated by the
government and everyone has about the same amount of money,
or in a nation where some people are rich and some are
poor depending upon their effort, training, or luck?

About 12% chose the first nation, 80% chose the second and 7% weren't sure.  The question basically offered a choice between the Soviet economic system (or a more egalitarian version) and Western capitalism, and when you look at it that way, 12% is surprisingly high.  What sort of people chose the first nation?  Some plausible hypotheses:

1.  Disadvantaged people--they weren't getting much out of existing system, so why not try something else?
2.  Less educated people--education might make people more aware of and more concerned with what other people thought, and therefore less likely to take positions out of the mainstream.
3.  More educated people--education might make people more likely to question established views.  Plus there are arguments that intellectuals are attracted to socialism.
4.  Younger people--it was the time of the "generation gap," when young people seemed to be alienated from American institutions.

The two factors that turned out to make a difference were race and income:  blacks and people with low incomes were more likely to choose the egalitarian socialist nation.  Education, gender, and age made little or no difference.  Among poor blacks, about half chose nation 1; among affluent blacks, about a quarter did.  About 20% of poor whites and only 7% of affluent whites chose nation 1.  So the first hypothesis is a clear winner.

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