Why are Young Americans feeling so positive about Socialism?

 Recently the Pew Poll Research Center performed a ‘Political Rhetoric Test’ to discover that young Americans have an increasingly positive response to ‘socialism’ and a declining one to ‘capitalism.’  I am interested in why y’all may think this is the case.  It’s important to note that a political rhetoric test has nothing to do with the respondent actually having any clue what ‘socialism,’ capitalism,’ ‘liberal,’ ‘conservative’ or ‘progressive’ actually mean.  It is simply a way of gauging how one responds to the word when used so I wouldn’t make near as big of a deal of this as Alexander Eichler at the Huffington Post who titled his post “Young People More Likely To Favor Socialism Than Capitalism,” but the stats are the stats.

“The poll, published Wednesday, found that while Americans overall tend to oppose socialism by a strong margin — 60 percent say they have a negative view of it, versus just 31 percent who say they have a positive view — socialism has more fans than opponents among the 18-29 crowd. Forty-nine percent of people in that age bracket say they have a positive view of socialism; only 43 percent say they have a negative view.”

 

So ‘socialism’ being popular among young Americans doesn’t mean they have any clue what it means.  Surely some do but I think it may be the fact that for most young Americans we know our lives – regardless of our hard work – will not as a whole be as good or better than our parents.  So if ‘socialism’ is the word for a different way of organizing our economic relationships as a country why not say ‘positive’ when asked because ‘capitalism’ has broken the promise of the American dream.

 Perhaps another reason ‘socialism’ is growing in popularity is thanks to our growing outlandish political Right in the country.  I thought of this when a high school student told me he was a socialist and I said “What? Do you have any idea what that means or would mean for your family?”  He said, “Yeah, you want college to be affordable, healthcare available to all, and to go back to Clinton era taxes.  I mean that’s why everyone is upset at Obama and he’s a socialist.”  What if our hyper-polarizing rhetoric in America and in particular the socialist name calling on the Right is actually making an audience for the very idea they abhor?

Two theological asides.

1) If you look at just the poor and non-white stats our country is significantly critical of capitalism.  Should those on the underside of our system get a hearing from the church about the effects of our system on their lives and family?

2) ‘Progressive‘ is way more popular than ‘Liberal.’

Public reactions to the word progressive are far more favorable than to the word liberal; two-thirds have a positive reaction to the former compared with just half for the latter. There is very little difference among Democrats – who view both terms favorably.  The largest difference is among Republicans most (55%) of whom have a positive reaction to the word progressive, and a negative (70%) reaction to the word liberal. (link)

Does that mean liberal Christians should use progressive?  And why didn’t they ask about ‘Incarnational Christians?’

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6 comments
George W. Baum
George W. Baum

It's typical for 18 - 30 year old folks to favor socialism. Has been, is, will be. Was the case for me ( intrigued with left-leaning politics in Latin America (Sandinista revolution. Cesar Chavez, et al). There seems to be an infatuation with utopian idealism in this age period (generalizations, I realize), You've been educated in the system in such ways, which enabled Obama & co to be elected (but not radical enough for the utopian unrealists) Oh, how many arguments I was engaged in with parents. teachers, preachers, and those of older (naive, uninformed, unsophisticated) generations. Practical realities of Socialism woke me up, much to my dismay, as I saw what the idealism did to real people (real dead, real maimed, real oppressed - in many real places). The fruits of socialism are far worse than defective capitalism. I read wiser, more life-experienced people in this regard: Solzhinizn (sp?), M Muggeridge, G.K. Chesterton, J. Ellul , D. Horowitz, among many others (all folks who lived for, or within socialistic ideals - please read them - and then dialogue)- and found better ways of thinking/living. I lived out my socialistic/communistic theology in intentional Christian community , and networks of communities around the US, and found the idealistic experiments to be failures, just one of many among my idealistic generation. The challenge has been to not become cynical, co-opt truth, and to find ways to live it out authentically (vs. think it out, debate it out, etc). My challenge to young socialists is to go live it out in some concrete form for 5-7 years (inner city, 3rd world countries, etc) and then comment on your findings. Stop telling other folks in the US what to do, and instead do it yourself. Idealistic rants do not mean you are living it. Walk the talk and then let's talk. Been there, done that - Do it and then tell me I am wrong. My advice: figure out a way to really love God and really love people authentically, concretely, incarnationally vs. propounding philosophic, utopian, socialistic idealism.

Dan Hauge
Dan Hauge

It's true that the word 'socialist' has been rather watered down by conservatives decrying any government regulation or spending at all as "Socialism!" But it does make sense that the younger generation is more open to the term, and it's downright refreshing that many are not buying the right-wing talking point that "the crash of 2008 was caused by government forcing banks to help poor people" I definitely think we need to hear from our brothers and sisters on the underside of the system, though I believe a big part of why this doesn't happen is that the church is still too enmeshed in the system--all too often our congregations see "the poor" as a separate class of people that we (the church) are supposed to help, rather than making our congregations fully inclusive of people who are poor and marginalized. They are still 'the mission field' rather than integrally part of us, when in fact those marginalized by the society were at the core, rather than the margins, of the communities gathered around Jesus.

William Startare
William Startare

Sen. Bernie Sanders as everyone knows, calls himself a “Democratic Socialist,” yet he still polls well even in the rural conservative parts of Vermont. For example, Bernie has said that in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, an area that went heavy for bush in 2004, he consistently wins a majority of support. Nationally, PPP has noted him as the “third most popular senator in the US.” As far as I can tell, his socialism is a lot like that of the high school student: a strong social safety net and a government that protects us from oligarchy. The socialism of my generation really isn’t that of Marx. I wouldn’t want my laptop made by the federal government unless Steve Jobs was running it and that’s not going to happen now. We want Norway’s socialism (with a better supply of butter). The issues of inequality and social mobility are becoming so important this year. You can definitely see it in the occupy movement, but also in the surge of Santorum, the Bain attack ads and even in the Tea Party. I’m excited to see where this leads.

Alexander Ehrich
Alexander Ehrich

I really do hope that there is a future for a more centrist position in the US. As Stephen mentioned, the most salient critique in this article concerns the radicalization of the Right. Had it not been for the inflammatory rhetoric, I assume that we would still have a growing right wing movement. I know that for me, that is what pushed me over the edge while I was wrestling through these things in college. And it is that polarization which does not help solve real world problems. It gets many people inflamed at a few issues while critical reflection on a slew of others is ignored. Also, I think that the terms "progressive" and "liberal" are changing. I have observed many people's reactions when I use these terms in various settings. For me the term "liberal" has the connotation of a certain lifestyle, and a certain set of moral guiding principles, whereas "progressive" signifies openness, thoughtful and respectful of a divergence of opinion. I know that for others they may signify other things.

Austin
Austin

Tripp, I totally agree with your argument that young people are more favorable towards socialism because it is becoming more widely recognized that our overall economic situation will be worse off than our parents. Also, yes, young people overall I think 'get' the problems with the far Right in this country that is currently getting so much airtime. I am also tempted to think that occupy wall street made a deep impression with its timely critique of the wall street oligarchs. Anger towards corporate power in this country is more widespread now it seems. Maybe I'm just optimistic, but there's also the recognition of the ecological crisis and its direct connection to global capitalism. Finally, it's interesting to speculate about how other political views influence young people's critical stance towards capitalism. What I mean is, consider the fact that most young people today support gay marriage. It has become intuitive for many in a way that it never was for previous generations. It is seen by more and more young people as a new civil rights movement. That means that when they hear the Republican political candidates basically across the board make arguments against gay marriage, it can become somewhat harder to agree with them on other issues. Then they go on to be the 'anti-science party', often denying evolution and climate change. The 'package deal' of the Right is not appealing to many young people. They appear irrelevant. Their support of conservative economics then becomes suspect, however much or little a person understands the complexities of economics, and alternative perspectives like socialism seem more appealing. And yes, I like progressive more than liberal as a descriptor. But that's only for pragmatic reasons. If it weren't for the more negative popular perceptions of the word liberal, it wouldn't matter to me at all.

Stephen
Stephen

I think that your point about the radicalization of political rhetoric is the most salient one. We live in a truly Baudrillardian political society.