Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey

Poll: Americans Like Free Markets More than Capitalism and Socialism More Than a Government-Managed Economy

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recent Reason-Rupe poll asked Americans to rate their favorability towards capitalism, socialism, a free market economy, and a government managed economy. Americans have the most favorable reaction to free markets (69%), followed by capitalism (55%), socialism (36%), and coming in last was a government managed economy (30%). 

Fully 66 percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of an economy managed by the government while 58 percent have a negative view of socialism. Only 21 percent reported a negative opinion of free markets but nearly double that, 38 percent, have a negative view of capitalism.

Interestingly, while younger people have a more positive of opinion of socialism and a government managed economy than older people, they are about equally likely to say they favor the free market system and capitalism as older Americans.

Among college-aged Americans, 58 percent report a positive view of socialism and 56 percent a positive view of capitalism. In contrast,  only 28 percent of seniors have a positive view of socialism while 61 percent have a favorable view of capitalism. This may give the impression young people are trending socialist.

However, college-aged Americans are far more supportive of a free market system (72%) than they are of a government-managed economy (49%). Seniors concur with young people on the free market system (74%), while only 28 percent have a positive view of a government-managed economy.

Several forces could likely be at play. First, young people don't know what these words mean. The fact that they are more favorable toward socialism than a government-managed economy, which if anything is socialism-lite, demonstrates this. Second, young people like free markets and the technology, products, and wealth it creates, but they also want to feel confident the poor have access to what they need. In their minds socialism might simply connote a social safety net rather than government ownership. Third, individuals often trend left in their youth, but may change as they age. Fourth, this cohort of young people may be systematically different from older generations in holding a preference for both markets and government activism. It remains to be determined how this young generation will make the trade-off when markets and government action are at odds.

Examining other demographics differences confirms that capitalism as a concept is more popular among those with more education and income. For instance, 48 percent of those with high school diplomas or less have a favorable view of capitalism, compared with 62 percent of college grads, and 78 percent of those with post-graduate degrees. Those making more than $90,000 a year are 22 points more likely to favor capitalism than those making less than $90,000 a year (73 to 51 percent respectively).

White Americans favor capitalism over socialism 56 to 29 percent. However, African-Americans report being favorable to both capitalism (51%) and socialism (55%). Hispanics are more supportive of capitalism with 53 percent supportive of capitalism, and 45 favorable of socialism.

Democrats are split in half on capitalism and socialism. Fifty-three percent say they have a favorable view of capitalism and 50 percent a favorable view of socialism. In fact nearly 3 in 10 Democrats have a favorable opinion of both socialism and capitalism.

While independents share Democrats' skepticism of capitalism (48% favorable) they are far less supportive of socialism (33% favorable). Republicans predictably are strongly favorable of capitalism 62 to 33 percent, and fervently oppose socialism 18 to 77 percent.

Seven in 10 tea partiers have a favorable view of capitalism. Excluding tea partiers from the calculation, only a slim majority of Americans, 51 percent, have a favorable view of capitalism.

The decision between the free market economy and a government-managed economy is far less controversial. Roughly two-thirds across racial groups favor a free market economy. Nevertheless, while 26 percent of Caucasians have a positive reaction to a government managed economy, roughly 4 in 10 African-Americans and Hispanics have a favorable view a government managed economy.

Education similarly correlates with attitudes with post-graduates being nearly 20 points more likely than high school grads to favor the free market system (83 to 64 percent). Nevertheless, strong majorities across educational groups like free markets.

Differences are also diminished across income groups: 7 in 10 Americans making less than $90,000 a year have a positive view of free markets, as do 8 in 10 Americans making more than $90,000 a year.

Partisans also agree with 7 in 10 favoring free markets. Yet, Democrats are about twice as likely as independents and Republicans to have a favorable view of an economy managed by the government (41 to 20 percent respectively).

These results indicate that the public thinks differently about the words "free markets" and "capitalism." These words do not carry the same meaning. While Americans don't like either "socialism" or a "government managed economy" that much, socialism is more palatable to Americans than a government managed economy. This implies Americans must not think that socialism necessarily means the government runs the economy. Instead, Americans may think of socialism as government providing social services. 

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43 responses to “Poll: Americans Like Free Markets More than Capitalism and Socialism More Than a Government-Managed Economy

  1. I’m sticking with revealed preferences on this one.

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  2. Yet, Democrats are about twice as likely as independents and Republicans to have a favorable view of an economy managed by the government (41 to 20 percent respectively).

    Shocking. That Repubs lie. They love “management” by govt, too – just send the pork to Martin Marietta and AM General instead of Solyndra and GM.

    Oh, wait – R’s in Michigan were OK with sending money to GM, too. Just not those assholes from states with Toyota, Mercedes, BMW and Hyundai plants.

    1. Martin Marietta?? They haven’t existed for about 30 years. LMCO is what they have become.

  3. This implies Americans must not think that socialism necessarily means the government runs the economy. Instead, Americans may think of socialism as government providing social services.

    “We must strive to erase that erroneous notion from their minds!”

    Comrade Stalin.

  4. There are too many commies in this country.

    1. “He’ll see the Big Board!”

    2. I can’t believe people even still use the word ‘commie’. Like we’re living in the cold war era!

      Socialism, just like Capitalism, can take different forms. We’re seeing all kinds of Socialist projects pop up across the country these days, and it has nothing to do with government. Worker cooperatives, landshares, community owned utilities… This is what many millennials think of when they think Socialism.

  5. Poll one:

    Americans, do you prefer North Korea or Disneyland?

    Poll two:

    Do you prefer everything to be free or would you rather be driven into poverty paying for it yourself?

  6. Several forces could likely be at play. First, young people don’t know what these words mean

    That’s a winner, I’d wager, and not just in the literal sense. A generation that has no experience with Cold War era collectivist horrors probably has a less negative view of socialism due to that lack of experience. They don’t understand what it means to give collectivist ideologies full power over people’s lives.

    1. As a recent college graduate, I can tell you that to the overhwelming number of young progressives socialism means the utopia that is Sweden or Norway and not shitholes like Venezuela and Cuba.

      They are, of course, utterly ignorant of how those countries work but they see free healthcare! and assume it must be the way to go.

      1. Cuba is actually doing some interesting things these days.

    2. “That’s a winner, I’d wager, and not just in the literal sense. A generation that has no experience with Cold War era collectivist horrors probably has a less negative view of socialism due to that lack of experience. They don’t understand what it means to give collectivist ideologies full power over people’s lives.”

      It is unnecessary to have lived during the cold war to understand collectivists horrors the danger of giving collectivists ideologies.

      It is a matter of education. Pro or

    3. “That’s a winner, I’d wager, and not just in the literal sense. A generation that has no experience with Cold War era collectivist horrors probably has a less negative view of socialism due to that lack of experience. They don’t understand what it means to give collectivist ideologies full power over people’s lives.”

      It is unnecessary to have lived during the cold war to understand collectivists horrors the danger of giving collectivists ideologies.

      It is a matter of education. Pro or

    4. Yes, youth these days are to ignorant of 20th Century history. I suspect that even “national socialism” would poll favorably among Millennials.

    5. That’s one way to look at it. It may be a generation that hasn’t been plagued with capitalist propaganda, and has felt the horrors of Capitalism since the time they reached adulthood.

  7. Education similarly correlates with attitudes with post-graduates being nearly 20 points more likely than high school grads to favor the free market system (83 to 64 percent).

    Interesting how that closely correlates with the Libertarian-Liberal divide – 79% to 67%.

  8. Did I miss it, or did this survey cover what Millenials (PBUT) think?

  9. First, young people don’t know what these words mean.

    My experience agrees. It’s dismayingly common to hear de yoots use “socialism” and “capitalism” to mean “whatever I like” and “whatever I don’t like,” respectively, regardless of what they’re actually talking about.

    1. It has been my experience that a great lot of the clueless and misinformed tend to confuse “capitalism” (the economic process of applying capital to produce goods of higher value for the purpose of exchange) with either simple capital accumulation, free markets OR a liberal (i.e. classical liberal) system of government.

      And these same misinformed souls tend to confuse “socialism” with “sharing” and “equality”, when in fact it means neither. Socialism is the political system that negates the sovereignty of the individual and his or her right to the possession and usufruct of property.

  10. I like a club sandwich, more than a slice of soggy bread with turkey cold cuts on it. Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Not if you called ’em stench blossoms.

  11. So this poll, at best, sort of suggests a real confusion concerning the definitions of certain words?
    It’s not totally surprising; we get lefty twits here often enough telling us that, oh, “freedom” means more laws.

    1. You think right-wingers oppose laws? Cute.

  12. 7% view free-markets and socialism favorably. They are the “I’m for free-markets, but” crowd.

  13. Or they may use “socialism” etymologically correctly to mean a tendency to be social. And if they used “capitalism” in parallel construction with some other -isms, as has been pointed out by many critics of this Marxist word, it would mean a system in which capital calls all the shots, which is far from a free market.

    1. Even in free markets Capital calls all the shots. In fact, if it weren’t for government, standard oil would have a monopoly on the oil industry. Monopolies are bad, and without regulation they are guaranteed. It’s the nature of business. Companies desire to merge and eat up competition, and they are very clever at doing so. Look at Comcast and Time Warner.

      In short, competition is good for capitalism. It’s good for the consumer! However, it’s not so great for the capitalist.

  14. Personally, count me as being against chaos and badness, and badnessism, and being in favor of goodness, motherhood, and apple pie (and goodnessism). Why was THAT crappity-crap not included in the survey?!?! Can’t we all just get more vapid?

    1. Also please let it be noted that I am against stuffy-stuff, but am in favor of stuff-and-stuff.

    2. Didn’t Judge Smails ask Danny Noonan a similar question?

  15. I don’t use the word capitalism (on its own) anymore, because you never know whether your audience will hear it as “free market” or as “state-sponsored cartel cronyism”; the latter meaning, I think, has more historic legitimacy. Statists generally like to conflate the two.

    1. Well put! Bravo, Tamfang!

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  17. Do the idiots at REASON/RUPE get paid for the stupidity they produce?
    Before a “poll” like this would have any legitimacy, everyone asked must have the same definitions of the terms.
    Some, truly, believe that our increasingly socialist America practices capitalism – blame the “education” system.

  18. How can you be for free markets and against capitalism?

    1. Pretty easily and tamfang above said how. ‘Capitalism’ can quite easily incorporate cronyism or plutocracy and historically has. ‘Free markets’ are precisely what is undermined by that cronyism or plutocracy.

      I’ll go further. The word ‘capitalist’ was first coined as a cultural word – not an economic one. To describe the nouveau riche who were just as much jackasses as the older landed aristocracy but without the ‘noblesse oblige’ or grace.

      And ‘capitalism’ was originally defined as a strawman by socialists in the first place. So you use that word and you have essentially ceded definitions/terms to your opponents. Which is why we have well over 100+ years of ‘free markets’ advocates having to cede the moral high ground to socialists – rather than invoke the ethics of Bastiat or Chydenius (or more confusingly Smith).

      I’m actually surprised that there isn’t more of a difference in the perception of those terms.

      1. How about “Market Based Economy” that is the interpretation for those who don’t use capitalism as a dirty word.

  19. How many asked what the diff was between free markets and capitalism?

  20. Democrats are split in half on capitalism and socialism. Fifty-three percent say they have a favorable view of capitalism and 50 percent a favorable view of socialism. In fact nearly 3 in 10 Democrats have a favorable opinion of both socialism and capitalism.

    So being a Dem is like never maturing past your college years.

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  22. “Free markets” & “socialism” aren’t so contradictory, terms never lending themselves to clear interpretation since their initial coinage anyway.

    First, my interpretation.

    Youth may see “free market” as “decentralized self-organization”. Decentralized self-organization is natural for post-Internet collectivists but not for pre-Internet individualists. The latter may interpret “free market” as exclusive to capitalism, unaware of alternative free-market models.

    Real-world “socialism” is *centralized* socialism. Yet socialism isn’t tied to centralization. Real-world capitalism is centralized as well. The disadvantaged more readily see the fact that centralization & democracy conflict, regardless of economic model. Youth just want a balance between individual competition (capitalism’s strength) & social cooperation (socialism’s strength) sans centralized meddling.

    Second, a possible future trend: free-market anarcho-contributionism.

    This model satisfies the poll results — a democratic free market without central control measuring products & services by consensus *social value* rather than elitist capital value. Neither capitalism nor socialism, it embraces at once innovative competition and prosocial cooperation. Entirely attainable with current internet & tech.

    So devalued Gen Ys & subsequents aren’t confused so much as more informed than priors with the best vision to lead us out of this planetary mess.

    1. I think millennials have spent a great deal of time trying to understand economics. Afterall, millennials have been severely burned by our current Capitalist system in many ways. Youth unemployment has been an epidemic for years. We want something different. Something better!

      Older folks like to shit on millennials. Calling us lazy, confused, misguided (By whom, I suppose). The truth is, we are not lazy, just disillusioned. Though some are confused and misguided, we’ve taken great pains to define a clear path out of the mess that our ‘wise’ predecessors have left us. The more you learn the less you know, as they say. Whenever I see people running around as if their demographic has some special claim to knowledge over another, it becomes apparent that they haven’t learned enough to know what they don’t know.

      Capitalism has had its cheerleading sessions for the past century, despite it’s shortcomings. We can do better, and we will!

  23. Got it. In order to more effectively advance the cause of liberty, we should talk about “free markets” vs “government controlled economy” rather than capitalism vs socialism.

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