11 April 2009


A recent Rasmussen poll showed support for capitalism over socialism at 53%, while support for socialism over capitalism was at 20% (with the remainder undecided). Unsurprisingly, there was a marked trend by age and income, with twentysomethings and the poor almost evenly divided between the two economic philosophies and older or wealthier Americans much more supportive of capitalism. And also unsurprisingly, this poll has been getting a lot of attention.

It's important to note that the poll did not define either doctrine at all. Respondents were talking about the words "capitalism" and "socialism" without any context or explanation. And as Rasmussen themselves noted, an earlier poll has support for "free-market economy" at 70%.

Nate Silver at 538 cautions that little stock should be put into the poll, but also concludes that this means the poor are starting to lose faith in the American Dream notion of capitalism. Hendrik Hertzberg at the New Yorker blog, on the other hand, seems to think that 53% support for capitalism means that America is almost evenly divided about economic philosophies, and decides that what the poll means is that more and more Americans are simply more educated about the forms of modern socialism.  Ultimately, I think Chris Good at the Atlantic has the right idea:
[A]fter all, who is sure of anything these days? When it comes to the economy, certainty isn't exactly the spirit of the age.
After learning that we're on the brink of "nationalization" anyway, perhaps the respondents to this poll, when they got automated calls from Rasmussen, just felt more inclined to say "Well, my 401k is worthless, so who the hell knows?"
There have also been some amusing reactions. The Libertarian Party sent out an email saying, in part:
Somewhere, Barack Obama is smiling – and your freedoms are in greater danger now than perhaps at any other point in our nation’s history. 

When barely a majority of all Americans support capitalism – and two-thirds of younger voters either back socialism or can’t see the difference – your property, your prosperity and your liberty are now on a death watch.

Politicians are now going to go after your paycheck, your property and your fragile freedoms with no fear of retribution.

I say we strike that fear right back into them.

Can I count on you to help Libertarians win elections with your most generous gift of $25, $50, $100, $250, $500, $1000, $2500 or whatever you can afford right now?

And of course a Republican congressman has declared that there are seventeen socialists in Congress right now. He has a list in mind, and he doesn't like it. Although apparently he co-sponsored a bill with the only openly socialist congressperson in 2003, so how upset can he really be?

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