Socialism Abroad Shapes Americans’ Views on Economic Policy

(CN) – Americans who are against socialism point to unrest in countries like Venezuela as a main reason for their opposition, but those in favor of it told researchers it has been proven successful in other places around the world.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, right, attends an annual ceremony that marks the start of the judicial year in Caracas, Venezuela, on Jan. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)

In a Pew Research Center survey of 10,170 adults between April 29 and May 13, 65% of respondents had a positive view of capitalism, and 42% had a positive view of socialism. To expand on that data, researchers asked respondents why they felt certain ways about capitalism and socialism to help explain the underpinnings of their worldviews.

Of the 55% of respondents who indicated a negative view of socialism, many said that it increases reliance on the government at the cost of work ethic (19%), is historically indicative of failure (18%), undermines democracy (17%) or is generally negative (17%). Just 2% of those opposed to socialism said they want a blend of capitalism and socialism.

In contrast, the 42% who favored socialism cited a fairer system (31%), an improvement on capitalism (20%), its historical successes (6%), and its status as a better system than capitalism (4%).

Though researchers distilled respondents’ answers into these categories, they also asked people to explain their views in their own words to better illustrate them. A report on those responses was released Monday by the Pew Research Center.

Those with a negative view of socialism cited its fundamental difference to capitalism in American life and its perceived lack of freedom, along with unrest in socialist countries like Venezuela.

“Socialism has been tried for centuries in various countries and has never elevated the population,” said a male respondent, 53. “The latest example is Venezuela… The only economic system that offers the most opportunity for the most citizens is capitalism in a free society like the United States.”

Another respondent, a 73-year-old woman, implied that socialism was an attack on the American dream.

“I don’t want to see the American dream die; I think everyone should aspire to become the best that they can be and go as far as they can in life, and not just work to feed their neighbor,” she said. “I do agree we need to do something to help keep our middle class from disappearing, but I’m just not sold on socialism.”

By contrast, many who favored socialism and opposed capitalism cited the inequity involved in a free market. Of the 33% who had a negative view of capitalism, 23% said that it only benefits the wealthy, 20% said it is exploitative and corrupt, 8% said it undermines the democratic process and 4% said it needs better regulations but can work overall.

A 47-year-old man from an unspecified socialist country told researchers about his experience there.

“I grew up in a democratic socialist country and saw how quality of life is enhanced through government providing essential services like stipends for children, free secondary and college education, universal health care and retirement pensions,” he said.

Many opposed to capitalism cited the relationship between the wealthy and politicians as examples of its failures.

“Capitalism tends to favor the few at the expense of many and leads to the viewpoint that poor people are lazy,” one woman, 45, said. “Not everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

Another respondent, a 64-year-old man, pointed to money’s influence in the political process.

“Wealthy people spend their money influencing politicians, tilting the scales of capitalism in their favor. Wealth distribution has become way out of whack. Unchecked capitalism has created a wealth aristocracy,” he said.

The responses indicate that for those who support capitalism, socialism would undermine Americans’ ability to be successful. For those who support socialism, the U.S. economy has failed to produce financial success for anyone other than those who were already wealthy.

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