President Trump was mocked by Democrats when he declared in his State of the Union speech that America will never be a socialist country, a clear rebuke of the new generation of Democrats and socialists like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
However, new polling data suggest that socialism is gaining support among Millennials and Generation Z, at the expense of belief in capitalism.
Since 2010, young adults’ overall opinion of capitalism has deteriorated to the point that capitalism and socialism are tied in popularity among this age group, according to new research from Gallup. Moreover, only half of young adults view capitalism positively, down from 66 percent in 2010.
Generation Zers and Millennials (ages 18 – 39) take kindlier to socialistic policy than past generations. In fact, 49.6 percent of young voters would prefer to live in a socialist country, according to results from the 2019 Harris Poll, which has measured U.S. public opinion and advised presidents since 1963.
The wide and enthusiastic support self-declared socialist Bernie Sanders has whipped up from young people is demonstrative of the data. So is the celebrity-like status of the “The Squad” — the moniker given to Ocasio-Cortez and her freshmen colleagues Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich). Ocasio-Cortez and Omar have endorsed Bernie Sanders for president.
To these young people, many of whom are ill-educated in the Cold War and Soviet brutality in Europe, capitalism —not socialism — is the dirty word.
“To me, capitalism is irredeemable,” Ocasio-Cortez has said.
Where young adults differ from Baby Boomers and Generation Xers is their particularly low ratings of capitalism and big business combined with their relatively high rating of socialism.
Some data also suggest that ignorance might play a role in socialism’s rise among young people.
Despite the relatively high proportion of young adults who view socialism positively, a much higher 83 percent have a positive view of “free enterprise,” according to Gallup. This nearly matches the 88 percent of Gen Xers (ages 40 – 54) and 91 percent of Baby Boomers/Traditionalists (ages 55 and older) who view free enterprise positively. Still, opinions of free enterprise among Millennials/Gen Zers have trended down in the past few years.
Research from the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) suggests that perception is a major factor in how young people view socialism.
PRRI’s 2018 American Values Survey offered respondents two definitions of socialism. One described it as “a system of government that provides citizens with health insurance, retirement support and access to free higher education,” essentially how socialist Democrats describe their beliefs. The other was the full Marxist-Soviet version, “a system where the government controls key parts of the economy, such as utilities, transportation and communications industries.”
Fifty-four percent said socialism was about those public benefits, while just 43 percent picked the version that stressed government domination. Americans ages 18 to 29, for whom Cold War memories are dim to nonexistent, were even more inclined to define socialism as “social democracy” — 58 percent of them picked the gentle option, 38 percent the hard one.
The different reactions to the terms suggest that young adults favor Americans’ basic economic freedoms but have heightened concerns about the power that accrues as companies grow and that younger generations are more comfortable with using government to check that power.
But the PRRI survey indicates that there are fundamental issues of identity at play too regarding what it means to be an American. For Americans between the age of 18 – 29, only 47 percent say that believing that capitalism is the best economic system is important for being truly American. Seventy-one percent of seniors believe the opposite, that true Americans embrace capitalism.
Democratic leaders have dismissed accusations by President Trump that large swaths of the Democratic Party now identify with socialism. But PRRI’s research suggests otherwise. Less than half of Democrats surveyed said that believing capitalism is the best economic system is important for being truly American. Conversely, eight in 10 Republicans said it was.
The Harris Poll also found that four in 10 Americans surveyed said they would prefer living in a socialist country over a capitalist one. Fifty-five percent of women aged 18 – 54 would prefer to live in a socialist country, while a majority of men said they would prefer to live in a capitalist one.
So, follow the numbers and a future socialist-leaning America is not that far-fetched. All told, these statistics suggest that, while a great partisan rift has divided the United States, the bigger threat to American capitalism might be a growing chasm between generations. According to Harris, Americans age 37 and under will be 37 percent of the electorate in 2020.
Conservatives can only hope that the White House and Republican Party brain-trusts have a better plan than just name-calling Democratic luminaries. For his part, President Trump has made it clear that socialism’s rise will be a central theme of his re-election campaign.
“We are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country,” the President said in his state of the union address. “America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. America will never be a socialist country.”