Ronald Reagan once observed that “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Is this the generation that embraces socialism over liberty? Despite the best efforts of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — or maybe because of them? — Americans still prefer capitalism to socialism by a 2:1 margin in the latest Fox News poll.
At least, that’s true as a brand. But what about in practice? Perhaps, but it’s not quite as clear:
Capitalism is far more popular than socialism, according to a Fox News Poll of registered voters. The poll also finds economic optimism high, and the number wanting help from the government the lowest in years.
The new poll, released Wednesday, asks what message voters want to send to the federal government. Over half would say “leave me alone.” About a third would ask Uncle Sam to “lend me a hand.”
The 34 percent saying “lend me a hand” is down from 41 percent last year and 39 percent in 2016.
This tests the oft-used response about socialism in America, which is that we already have it to some extent and that it’s popular. We have Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, the three enduring programs from the New Deal and Great Society that are nearly impossible to reform, politically, and all of which are heading for disaster financially. When George W. Bush proposed a mainstream reform to Social Security that would have allowed more private control and investment for new entrants, the backlash was so bad that it’s shut down any reform efforts for more than a decade.
That’s as far as socialism has gotten in the US, though, which isn’t far as those aren’t entirely socialist policies, even if they end up being almost as costly. People do see government as a legitimate venue for “lending a hand,” but not for running entire industries. Americans have a century of examples of how socialism and collectivism goes bad, from the Soviet Union to Venezuela and many points in between. And when the economy booms, as it does now, even the “lend a hand” impulse retreats. A little, anyway.
Still, 61% of respondents think Americans rely too much on government, as opposed to 30% who say no. That’s down from 74/22 in August 2013, the last time Fox News asked the question, but still a very wide majority.
Fox also tests the brands, too. Capitalism gets a 57/28 favorability rating, with 33% strongly in favor of it as an economic system. That’s by far the best rating among a diverse set of subjects in the Fox poll; Melania Trump gets a 47/37 rating, and ObamaCare scores 47/45, but everyone and everything else lands underwater. Donald Trump’s approval rating is only 43/54, for instance, while Nancy Pelosi’s is 36/51.
Socialism actually manages to score worse than one of its advocates. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gets a 26/39, with another 34% having no opinion or never having heard of her. Socialism has a 25/59 rating with only 6% of respondents strongly favorable — half of AOC’s 12% strong-favorable rating. Ocasio-Cortez may still have some upside, even if her ideology doesn’t. For this generation, anyway.
Trump’s declaration in the State of the Union speech remains relevant. Let’s hope we can sustain it for another generation.