Socialism seen as the welfare state, not one party state

May 04, 2016, 1:00 PM GMT+0

People with unfavorable opinions of socialism are more likely to say that socialism means welfare states, not collective ownership of the economy

Historically the United States is unique for lacking a powerful socialist movement. In most of the rest of the world, socialist parties have won significant support, and often formed governments. In Western Europe, these socialist parties respected personal rights and focused on building a large welfare state, however, in other parts of the world more radical socialists founded one-party states which collapsed in the late-80s and early-90s. Socialists themselves have a hard time agreeing on what socialism is, exactly, but all have in common the shared belief that the economy should be structured to benefit workers, not just property owners. 

Research from the latest YouGov/Economist survey shows that Americans tend to think that socialism means a large welfare state with high progressive taxation (41%), rather than either widespread abolition of private property (19%) or a centrally planned, one-party state (12%). People who have a favorable opinion of socialism, however, are actually more likely to have a radical interpretation of the ideology. 26% of people who view socialism favorably say that they think it means an economic system where most property is owned collectively. People with an unfavorable opinion of socialism are more likely to say that it means a European-style welfare state, by 54% to 44%. 

Overall, however, Americans tend to have a negative opinion of socialism. 30% of Americans have a favorable opinion of the ideology, while 46% have a negative opinion of socialism. Democrats (47%) are predictably more well disposed towards socialism than Republicans (9%), but age is also a significant factor. Under-30s tend to have favorable opinion of socialism, 43% to 30%. Americans aged 30 to 44 are evenly split, 34% to 35%. Most Americans aged 45 or older have an unfavorable opinion of socialism. 

Americans may tend to view socialism as a large welfare state and tend to have unfavorable views of socialism, but the divide is closer when Americans are asked whether they would prefer smaller government or bigger government. 42% of Americans want a smaller government with fewer services, while 35% want a bigger government with more services. After partisan identities, age is the major dividing line. The youngest Americans tend to support a larger government (45% to 32%) while the oldest Americans want a smaller government (52%). 

See the Economist/YouGov results

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.