Posted by Joshua Holland, AlterNet.
at 4:00 PM on April 9, 2009.
Do They Understand the Words?
The results of a new Rasmussen poll are an eye-opener in some ways...
Only 53% of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism.
The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 20% disagree and say socialism is better. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are not sure which is better.
Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided. Thirty-somethings are a bit more supportive of the free-enterprise approach with 49% for capitalism and 26% for socialism. Adults over 40 strongly favor capitalism, and just 13% of those older Americans believe socialism is better.
Investors by a 5-to-1 margin choose capitalism. As for those who do not invest, 40% say capitalism is better while 25% prefer socialism.
It's certainly a fascinating finding, especially when compared with that of an earlier survey in which 70% of Americans prefered a free-market economy. Rasmussen also notes, "the fact that a 'free-market economy' attracts substantially more support than 'capitalism' may suggest some skepticism about whether capitalism in the United States today relies on free markets." Which just means we're not as dumb as we look.
But I take these findings with a significant grain of salt...
I doubt the terms "socialism" and "capitalism" are fully understood by most respondents, and Rasmussen didn't explain them (when asked which is better, 27 percent said 'whuh?'). Remember, according to the most recent (1997) Household Survey of Adult Civic Participation, less than a third of American adults read a newspaper or news magazine "almost every day." Almost a third couldn't tell you what "job or political office" Al Gore had held after he had been Vice President for five years, around a third didn't know which party held the majority in Congress and, stunningly, 49 percent of Americans surveyed didn't know "which party is more conservative at the national level."
Looking at other data as well, I think that there's widespread disilussionment with the American model of capitalism, and the response to Rasmussen's question is colored by the fact that most believe it to be the only one. The poll notes that just "fifteen percent of Americans say they prefer a government-managed economy ... 14% believe the federal government would do a better job running auto companies, and even fewer believe government would do a better job running financial firms." Given that, it's hard to see more than one in five opting for a system in which the state owns the means of production.
I'd be interested to see a poll that offered respondents a little information about what these terms mean, and also included "social democracy" as an option -- I've always seen a mostly free-market system with a far better safety net as the best of both worlds myself.
Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet.
I don't agree it's relevant that people know exactly what is meant by socialism, what is relevant is that about 30% of the US population isn't put off by socialism. Explaining socialism is my job.