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For Young Americans, “Socialism” Isn’t Really Socialism After All

August 27, 2019

August 27, 2019
By Jennifer Tiedemann

It’s common knowledge that young Americans are more progressive than their parents—and polling data indicates that they even find socialism appealing. With millennial and Generation Z voters expected to make up nearly 40 percent of the American electorate in 2020, should liberty-lovers be worried about where this country is headed?

The latest entry in the “young people are embracing socialism” literature comes from the Associated Press. There’s a clear gap between the political beliefs of older and younger Cuban Americans, explains the article: Cubans living in Miami have tended to be “staunchly anti-left”—many of them emigrated from Cuba to escape a political ideology that many in the younger generation have come to embrace, fueling political infighting within families.

And Cuban Americans aren’t the only Americans with a generation gap when it comes to feelings about socialism. According to a Gallup poll released earlier this year, about four in ten Americans say that “some form of socialism” would be good for the country, but nearly six in ten 18-34 year olds say the same.

But while a majority of these young Americans say socialism’s a good thing, the “socialism” they’re embracing is really more like “socialism lite.” Rather than pining for a pure socialism, socialism’s American supporters seem to instead look to social democratic countries with market economies as examples for what the United States could and should be. They even look to the progressive wing on our own soil—to politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—as the ideal direction this country should take. “Today’s socialism for younger people means the Canadian health system and the Swedish welfare state,” University of California-Irvine political sociologist Edwin Amenta explains in the Associated Press piece. And the Gallup poll data backs that argument up for sure. At least half of 18-34 year olds say the free market should be primarily responsible for technological innovation (70 percent), the distribution of wealth (61 percent), wages (53 percent), and the economy overall (50 percent).

None of this sounds like the socialism Marx has in mind: There’s a much greater acceptance of—even preference for—the free market than a true socialist would ever exhibit. Yes, this age cohort favors a bigger role for government in many areas of daily life than do older Americans. But this data suggests that maybe the future for freedom isn’t so bleak after all.

Jennifer Tiedemann is the Deputy Communications Director at the Goldwater Institute.



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