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“Americans today are more closely divided than they were earlier in the last century when asked whether some form of socialism would be a good or bad thing for the country”, says Gallup.

The Gallup poll results have been released on Monday.

The poll agency said:

“While 51% of U.S. adults say socialism would be a bad thing for the country, 43% believe it would be a good thing.”

It said: “Those results contrast with a 1942 Roper/Fortune survey that found 40% describing socialism as a bad thing, 25% a good thing and 34% not having an opinion.”

Would some form of socialism be a good thing or a bad thing for the country as a whole?

1942 2019 Change
% % pct. pts.
Good thing 25 43 +18
Bad thing 40 51 +11
No opinion 34 6 -28
Net “good thing” -15 -8 +7
Note: 1942 data gathered by Roper Center for Public Opinion Research

Source: Gallup

The Roper/Fortune survey is one of the oldest trend questions measuring attitudes on socialism in the U.S. Gallup’s update of the question in an April 17-30 survey finds Americans more likely to have an opinion on the matter now, as well as a smaller gap in the percentage calling socialism a bad thing vs. a good thing.

A changing definition

Gallup’s news release said:

“Previous Gallup research shows that Americans’ definition of socialism has changed over the years, with nearly one in four now associating the concept with social equality and 17% associating it with the more classical definition of having some degree of government control over the means of production. A majority of Democrats have said they view socialism positively in Gallup polling since 2010, including 57% in the most recent measure in 2018.”

Socialism around the World

The April 17-30 survey also updates another historical question on socialism.

Gallup first asked Americans in 1949 about their outlook on the spread of democracy over the next 50 years. At that time, seven in 10 Americans (72%) predicted that most countries in the world would have a democratic government. It’s important to note that in much of the political rhetoric of the time, the terms democracy and capitalism were more intimately intertwined than they are today, perhaps synonymous to many.

Future of democracy and socialism globally

Gallup poll asked: “During the next 50 years, do you think most of the nations of the world will have a democratic government, a communist government or a socialist government?”

1949 2019 Change
% % pct. pts.
Democratic 72 57 -15
Socialist 14 29 +15
Communist 9 6 -3
No opinion 5 8 +3
Source: GALLUP

The poll agency said:

“The current update on this question finds a marked increase in the percentage saying that most countries during the next 50 years will have a socialist government (29%). It is unclear whether this is due to the flourishing of democracies – particularly in Europe and Latin America – led by what are often described as social democrats, or whether a fundamental shift is taking place among some Americans in their views of socialism.

Government vs. free market

In the same April survey, Gallup asked Americans whether they would prefer mostly free market or government control over several economic and societal activities. Americans are most likely to prefer free market control in the areas of technological innovation and the distribution of wealth. Majorities also want the free market to drive the economy overall, wages, higher education and healthcare.

Preference for the government to serve as the primarily responsible actor only garners majority support for protecting online consumer privacy and the environment.

Majority want free market to lead on many fronts

Another question was: Would you prefer to have the free market or the government be primarily responsible for what happens in each of the following areas?

Free market Government Net “free market”
% % pct. pts.
Technological innovation 75 19 +56
The distribution of wealth 68 28 +40
The economy overall 62 33 +29
Wages 62 35 +27
Higher education 56 41 +15
Healthcare 53 44 +9
Protecting consumers’ privacy online 40 57 -17
Environmental protection 30 66 -36
GALLUP, April 17-30, 2019

Notably, more Americans favor free market than government control over healthcare and higher education, two areas in which Democratic politicians have made proposals to greatly expand government involvement. But at least four in 10 Americans appear sympathetic to policies that would increase the government’s role in those areas.

State of economy

Gallup said:

“Americans are divided on how they describe the current state of the U.S. economy. When asked whether they think the U.S. economy leans more toward free market control or toward government control, 40% say it leans more toward government control while fewer say it leans toward free market control (34%). One in four describes it as an equal mix.”

Democrats, socialism and capitalism

The agency said:

“Americans’ views on socialism are complex. While some recent data can easily lend to overstated conclusions, there are marked changes in Americans’ views of socialism when taking a longer, more historical look at the data. However, exactly what Americans mean by the term is nuanced and multifaceted. While half of Americans consider socialism as bad for the country, nearly two-thirds say that the U.S. economy is more influenced by the government than the free market, or that it reflects an equal mix of the two.

“Additionally, while a majority of Democrats view socialism positively, that is not a major change in the eight years Gallup has tracked this metric. The major shift over this time has been the reduced rate of Democrats who now view capitalism positively (47%).

“These data alone make it hard to generalize a simplistic conclusion about Americans’ opinions of, and willingness to entertain, socialism. But there are a few clear takeaways. About four in 10 Americans are accepting of some form of socialism or socialist policies, and Democrats currently have a more positive view of socialism than capitalism. In addition, the April survey found that 47% of Americans say they would vote for a socialist candidate for president. While that figure represents nearly half of the U.S. adult population, even higher percentages say they would vote for an atheist (58%) or Muslim (60%) presidential candidate.”

The Gallup survey covered 1,024 adults.

A stark contrast

As noted by The Hill, the Gallup poll stood in stark contrast to another survey published earlier this month by Monmouth University, which found that 57 percent of the population believed that socialism was not compatible with American values.

The poll of 801 adults also revealed that 42 percent of Americans had a negative opinion of socialism, while 10 percent viewed it positively.

Trump’s criticism

Speaking at a White House news conference with President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil in March, the U.S. President Donald Trump criticized those who pushed socialist views, including 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

“The twilight hour of socialism has arrived in our hemisphere,” Trump said in an apparent reference to countries such as Venezuela and Cuba. “Hopefully, it’s also arrived in our great country, the last thing we want in the United States is socialism.”

Partisan divide

The poll found a partisan divide noting that self-identified Democrats or those who lean in that direction are far more likely to take a favorable view of socialism, while those who identify as Republican are more likely to define socialism as government of control and speak about it in derogatory terms.

The rise of congresspeople in the U.S., like Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, mirrors the shifting opinions of the populace in the United States and provides the opportunity to define how U.S. citizens view socialism come the next time this question is asked.

Polling from Gallup in the last decade has consistently found that a majority of Democrats have a positive view of socialism. That view has been paired with declining popularity of capitalism from the party faithful over the last few years.

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