Septuagenarian presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has been capitalizing on young people’s lack of knowledge and life experience to sell them a bill of rotten goods.
Since when did socialism become en vogue? It seems like only a few years ago being called a socialist in American politics was an insult. Today, however, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders—a self-avowed socialist—is quickly rising in the polls, and millennials are largely driving his support.
The Iowa caucus entrance poll found Sanders garnered an overwhelming 84 percent of the 30 and under vote. Exit polls from New Hampshire found 85 percent support for Sanders among voters ages 30 and younger. What is going on?
Millennials are simply not that alarmed by the idea of socialism. For instance, a national Reason-Rupe survey found that 53 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds view socialism favorably, compared to only a quarter of Americans over 55. A more recent January YouGov survey found that 43 percent of respondents younger than 30 viewed socialism favorably, compared to 32 percent thinking favorably of capitalism.
In fact, millennials are the only age cohort in which more are favorable toward socialism than unfavorable. Young people are also more comfortable with a political candidate who describes him- or herself as a socialist. A May 2015 YouGov national survey found that 37 percent of millennials reported being “comfortable” (29 percent) or “enthusiastic” (8 percent) with the prospects of a socialist candidate. Among those older than 45, only about half that agree. So why are millennials so much more favorable toward socialism compared to older Americans?
Millennials Don’t Know What Socialism Is
First, millennials don’t seem to know what socialism is, and how it’s different from other styles of government. The definition of socialism is government ownership of the means of production—in other words, true socialism requires that government run the businesses. However, a CBS/New York Times survey found that only 16 percent of millennials could accurately define socialism, while 30 percent of Americans over 30 could. (Incidentally, 56 percent of Tea Partiers accurately defined it. In fact, those most concerned about socialism are those best able to explain it.)
With so few able to define socialism, perhaps less surprisingly a Reason-Rupe national survey found college-aged millennials were about as likely to have a favorable view of socialism (58 percent) as they were about capitalism (56 percent). While attitudes toward capitalism remain fairly constant across age groups, support for socialism drops off significantly when moving to older age cohorts. Only about a quarter of Americans older than 55 have a favorable view of socialism.
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