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Free Minds & Free Markets

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

A 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. 

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • SQRLSY One||

    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?

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    I am pro-something and sometimes I vote!

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  • theRabbit||

    I'm a free-market socialist. A libertarian-socialist. How can this be? Because 'socialism' (despite the Bankster's murderous shill, Lenin, mass-murdering all opposition to his self-proclaimed 'State-Capitalism), simply means "direct ownership of the means of production by the producers themselves".

    This obviously precludes government control or enforcement. Only marxists (self-proclaimed 'State-Socialists') believe this (or rather, pretend to). The welfare state, Lenin, and Obama have about as much to do with 'socialism', as patriotism or liberty have to do with the PATRIOT Act. And Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. And a Constitutional lawyer. War 'On' Drugs. War on Terrorism. Free Speech Zones. 'Peace-keeping Actions'. And the War Department changed its name to the Defense Department...

    See how they do that?

    The dirty little secret of the Left-Right Paradigm true believers is, you cannot have Big Government without Big Business, and vise versa.

  • Chrxtoph3r||

    The problem, which the author did note, is that younger people do not quite understand these classifications. Surveying them also surveyed their uninformed biases. Good study though.

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  • John Galt||

    American's aren't as dumb as I thought they were. Or, at least Americans participating in Reason-Rupe polls aren't as dumb as I thought they were.

  • Dilligaf||

    Rabbit ,I think your terminology may be dated or less than accurate. However it does occur to me that a small family run farm or other business could possibly be described as "libertarian-socialist", but to my ear that is just another absurd oxymoron like "free market-fascist". Best to stay away from the whole slaver/statist lexicon in the first place and not confuse matters. "Free Market" works fine for me and has the added advantage of being more accurate and less confusing.

  • Ryius||

    I think socialism/communism is the exact same thing as tribalism, it is in the reverse direction of societal evolution. Think about it, it may work in a community of about 100 people but after that, it becomes really tricky to make sure things are "fair." You need an authoritarian government in socialism/communism to make sure things are "even." Meanwhile, the government is the same as the 1% you were complaining about in the free market system. Sure, a social "safety net" is needed in society with rapid market swings, but to let the Cretans continue to feed off others work while doing nothing at all is at odds with the natural order. There's a difference between being compassionate and spending other peoples' money to get elected by serving the welfare state.

  • Arthur45||

    Capitalism and free markets are not two disparate entities. Get with it.

  • Matdarat||

    Another case of the Academic world and popular world colliding. Words have meanings and big words usually have very specific meanings. Most average Americans don't know that they don't know and don't care...we get the government we deserve! I'm sure the respondents know all the LBGT terms and the size of Kim K's butt while they have no idea of the size of the deficit or debt.

  • Ray Tapajna||

    Having being in the corporate and business world for more than fifty years, I never found the so called free market. It is only label to cover economic sins. Free trade economics has failed. President Obama had to bail it out and what we got now is something no one knows how to really defined. Everyone is now on welfare from the top down.

    The value of labor and workers has been degraded. This represents trillions of dollars lost forever. The same applies to the trade deficit which has broken records for years. And not the bail out money that was borrowed from the future to save the false economic systems represents even more money lost forever.

    We ask Is Free Trade Economics A Structural Sin? And who said we had to compete like this in a global economic arena in the first place.
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  • Philo Vaihinger||

    Perhaps when asked about "government managed economy" minorities think of government prohibitions of racial or ethnic exclusions from jobs, schools, public services, etc.

    And many people think of health and safety regulation of products, working conditions, etc., along with things like workmen's comp legislation.

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