One of the issues emerging in the 2020 presidential race, at least among Democratic candidates, is whether the United States should become more socialist. I say more socialist because the government already plays a significant role in the production and distribution of goods and services—think Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, Social Security, public education, national defense, highways, law enforcement, the prison system, subsidies to private companies, on and on.
Yet, we typically don’t regard these and other services as “socialist.” They are just things the government does; over time we become accustomed to and dependent upon them.
Many of the Democratic candidates say the government should be doing more… much more, and that was evident during last week’s debates. However, except for Bernie Sanders, who is a socialist, the candidates shy away from identifying themselves that way or espousing the benefits of “democratic socialism.”
That’s because most Americans are still capitalists, or at least they believe they are. A new survey by Pew Research Center finds “Overall, a much larger share of Americans have a positive impression of capitalism (65 percent) than socialism (42 percent).”
However, the views vary widely based on party affiliation and demographics.
More than eight-in-ten (84 percent) of Republicans have a negative impression of socialism and 63 percent have a very negative view. Meanwhile, two-thirds of Democrats (65 percent) have a positive view of socialism. Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to have a positive view of both socialism and capitalism.
Young people are more inclined to view socialism more favorably. “Similar shares of adults younger than 30 express positive views of capitalism (52 percent) and socialism (50 percent),” Pew found, but older Americans are likely to have more positive views of capitalism than socialism.
Young Democrats are the only subgroup where a majority has turned against a market economy. The survey found that 55 percent hold negative views of capitalism.
Income is a factor in a person’s economic preference. “Adults with family incomes of $75,000 or more have more positive views of capitalism than do those with lower incomes,” the survey found. “The pattern is reversed for views on socialism: Those with incomes of less than $30,000 express more positive views of socialism than those with higher incomes.”
The poll is enlightening, but the truth is we don’t spend much time trying to understand the principles of capitalism or socialism. How many Americans who view themselves as hard-core capitalists would be willing to reject the concept of Medicare or Social Security? And for socialists, where is all the money going to come from for their redistribution programs if there is not a thriving private sector economy? Instead of debating those questions, we reduce the ideas to stereotypes and the terms to buzz words.