By Emily Ekins
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.