Millennials Don't Know What "Socialism" Means


To learn more about millennials, check out Reason-Rupe's new report.

Young people don't know what socialism is.

Recent polls have suggested that millennials are far more positive to socialism than older cohorts. For instance, the Pew Research Center found that 43 percent of 18-29 year olds had a positive reaction to the word socialism, compared to 33 percent of 30-49 year olds, 23 percent of 50-64 year olds, and 14% of 65+. The older you get the more you hate socialism.

But do young people even know what socialism means?

Perhaps not. A new Reason-Rupe report on millennials finds that young people are more favorable to the word "socialism" than a government-managed economy, even though the latter is lessinterventionist. Millennials don't like government intervention in the economy when you spell it out precisely, rather than use vague terms like "socialism."

In fact, a 2010 CBS/New York Times survey found that when Americans were asked to use their own words to define the word "socialism" millennials were the least able to do so. According to the survey, only 16 percent of millennials could define socialism as government ownership, or some variation thereof. In contrast, 30 percent of Americans over 30 could do the same (and 57% of tea partiers, incidentally).

Millennials simply don't know that socialism means the government owning everybody's businesses. They don't understand that socialism means the government owns the banks, the car companies, Uber, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, etc. They don't even want the government taking a managerial role over the economy, let alone nationalizing private enterprise.

In fact, millennial support for a government-managed economy (32%) mirrors national favorabilitytoward the word socialism (31%). Millennial preferences may not be so different from older generations once terms are defined.

Millennials' preferred economic system becomes more pronounced when it is described precisely. Fully 64 percent favor a free market economy over an economy managed by the government (32%), whereas 52 percent favor capitalism over socialism (42%). Language about capitalism and socialism is vague, and using these terms assumes knowledge millennials may not have acquired.

Millennials didn't grow up during the Cold War in which the national enemy was a socialist totalitarian regime like the Soviet Union.  Since this time, the terms "socialism" and "capitalism" may have taken on different meaning in the minds of millennials. For instance, socialism could imply protecting the vulnerable from the vicissitudes of capitalism, and capitalism could mean government favoritism instead of a free market.

Furthermore, critics of the president keep calling Obama a socialist. Millennials like Obama,  (52% still approve of him) and thus perhaps the critics' constant barrage of socialist name-calling has bolstered millennials' opinion of the word, rather than tainted Obama's image.

Support for Socialism Peaks in College

There is evidence that support for socialism and a government-managed economy rises when millennials attend college and then recedes after they graduate.

College students are evenly divided between socialism (49%) and capitalism (48%). Conversely, millennials who are not currently in college favor capitalism to socialism 55 to 38 percent. (College graduates are similar to other non-students in support for capitalism). College campuses appear to be a incubator for socialist views.

To learn more about millennials, check out Reason-Rupe's new report.