Many Democrats say socialism meets people’s basic needs; Republicans say it restricts individual freedoms
Pew Research Center conducted this study to better understand how the public views socialism and capitalism. For this analysis, we surveyed 7,647 adults from Aug. 1-14, 2022. The survey was primarily conducted on the Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel, with an oversample of Hispanic adults from Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel.
Respondents on both panels are recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. See the Methodology section for additional details. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.
The American public continues to express more positive opinions of “capitalism” than “socialism,” although the shares viewing each of the terms positively have declined modestly since 2019.
Today, 36% of U.S. adults say they view socialism somewhat (30%) or very (6%) positively, down from 42% who viewed the term positively in May 2019. Six-in-ten today say they view socialism negatively, including one-third who view it very negatively.
And while a majority of the public (57%) continues to view capitalism favorably, that is 8 percentage points lower than in 2019 (65%), according to a national survey from Pew Research Center conducted Aug. 1-14 among 7,647 adults.
Much of the decline in positive views of both socialism and capitalism has been driven by shifts in views among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.
In 2019, nearly two-thirds of Democrats and Democratic leaners (65%) had a positive view of socialism. Today a smaller majority of Democrats (57%) say they have a positive impression.
There has not been significant change among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents since 2019. Today, just 14% say they have a positive impression of socialism, while about four times as many say they have a very negative view of the term.
There is a similar pattern on views of capitalism. Today, fewer than half of Democrats (46%) have a positive view of capitalism, down 9 points from the 55% who said this in 2019.
Among Republicans, there has been a modest decline in the share who have positive views of capitalism, although a large majority still have a positive impression (78% in 2019, 74% today).
Americans see capitalism as giving people more opportunity and more freedom than socialism, while they see socialism as more likely to meet people’s basic needs, though these perceptions differ significantly by party.
While 36% of adults say “gives all people an equal opportunity to be successful” describes capitalism extremely or very well, fewer (23%) say that about socialism. And roughly twice as many say the phrase “makes sure everyone’s basic needs, such as food, health care, and housing, are met” describes socialism at least very well as say the same of capitalism (38% vs. 18%).
Consistent with the wide partisan differences in opinions of socialism and capitalism, Republicans and Democrats characterize the terms in very different ways. For example, Republicans widely think socialism “restricts people’s individual freedoms” – 62% say this describes socialism extremely or very well, compared with 19% of Democrats. Democrats, by contrast, are far more likely than Republicans to say socialism meets people’s basic needs (56% extremely or very well vs. 19% of Republicans).
These differences echo findings from Americans’ open-ended descriptions of the terms in the 2019 study, which found that critics of socialism were more likely to mention stifled innovation and restrictions of freedom in their responses and to cite countries like Venezuela as examples. Those with a positive view of socialism were more likely to describe it as a fairer system – and to mention countries like Finland and Denmark as examples.
Democrats and Republicans also have markedly different views of self-described democratic socialists. In a survey conducted this July, 33% of Democrats say they like political leaders who identify as democratic socialists, while 18% dislike such leaders; Republicans largely express a negative view of leaders who identify as democratic socialists (78% dislike).
Demographic differences in views of socialism and capitalism
There are sizable demographic differences in views of these terms – especially capitalism.
Opinions of both terms differ widely by age. While younger adults are more likely than older adults to say they have positive impressions of socialism, the opposite is true for capitalism.
Just 40% of those ages 18 to 29 view capitalism positively; that is the lowest share in any age group and 33 percentage points lower than the share of those 65 and older.
Adults younger than 50 also are more likely than those 50 and older to have a positive impression of socialism (41% vs. 30%).
Men and women are about equally likely to have positive impressions of socialism. However, men are far more likely than women to have a favorable impression of capitalism: 68% of men have a positive impression of capitalism, compared with 48% of women. Men are also roughly twice as likely as women to say they have a very favorable impression of capitalism (28% vs. 15%).
About half of Black (52%) and Asian (49%) Americans have a positive impression of socialism, as do 41% of Hispanic Americans – compared with just 31% of White Americans. About six-in-ten White (62%) and Asian (59%) adults and 54% of Hispanic adults have a positive impression of capitalism. By comparison, 40% of Black adults view capitalism positively.
People with higher family incomes are more likely than those in the lowest income tier to view capitalism positively (70% vs. 45%). By contrast, those with lower family incomes are more positive about socialism than are those with middle and upper incomes.
Both Democrats and Republicans differ by age and income in their opinions about these terms. Among Democrats and Democratic leaners, there are stark differences in views of capitalism by age: 64% of Democrats 65 and older say they have a positive view of the term, as do about half of Democrats ages 50 to 64. By comparison, 42% of Democrats ages 30 to 49 and just 29% of those under 30 say the same.
There are more modest age differences among Democrats in views of socialism. Democrats under 50 are somewhat more likely to have a positive view of the term than those 50 and older (60% vs. 54%).
Lower-income Democrats are also less likely to have positive views of capitalism (39%) than middle- (47%) and upper-income Democrats (55%). Similar majorities of Democrats across income tiers view socialism positively.
Among Republicans and GOP leaners, majorities in all age groups have positive views toward capitalism, but younger Republicans are less likely to say this than older Republicans. Six-in-ten Republicans under the age of 30 say they have a positive view of capitalism. Among Republicans ages 30 to 49 71% say they have a positive view toward capitalism, as do eight-in-ten Republicans 50 and older.
And while just 6% of Republicans 65 and older say they have positive views toward socialism, a larger share of those under 30 (23%) say the same thing.
There are also income divides among Republicans: While a majority of lower-income Republicans (61%) have favorable views of capitalism, the share who say this is smaller than among middle- (75%) and upper-income Republicans (87%). About three-in-ten Republicans in the lower tier of household income (29%) have positive views toward socialism, compared with about one-in-ten who are middle (9%) and upper income (8%).
Among the public overall, roughly four-in-ten (39%) have a positive view of capitalism and a negative view of socialism. That is about double the share who have a positive view of socialism and a negative view of capitalism (18%). About one-in-five adults either have positive impressions of both terms (18%) or neither one (21%).
Adults under the age of 30 are about as likely to only have a positive view of socialism (28%) as they are to have a positive view of only capitalism (24%). Among those 65 and older, a majority (53%) have a positive view of capitalism and not socialism, while just 9% only have a positive view of socialism.
Adults under 30 are about twice as likely as those 65 and older to have a positive view of neither term (27% vs. 14%).
A clear majority of Republicans (66%) have a positive impression of capitalism and a negative view of socialism.
Younger Republicans are less likely than older Republicans to view capitalism positively and also view socialism negatively: 47% of Republicans under the age of 30 hold this combination of views. By comparison, 79% of Republicans 65 and older and 71% of those ages 50 to 64 hold this combination of views.
Among Democrats, views are more mixed: Three-in-ten have a positive view toward socialism but not capitalism, 19% express a positive view toward capitalism only, 27% of Democrats view both socialism and capitalism positively, and about two-in-ten (21%) do not have a positive view of either term.
Views toward socialism and capitalism also differ across age groups among Democrats. About four-in-ten Democrats under the age of 30 express a positive view toward socialism and a negative view of capitalism (41%), while 21% of Democrats 50 and older hold this combination of views. Democrats under 30 are about twice as likely as those 65 and older to say they have negative views of both socialism and capitalism (28% vs. 15%).
Wide partisan gaps in descriptions of socialism, capitalism
Republicans and Democrats also have different impressions of the ways capitalism and socialism affect society.
While about a third of Democrats and Democratic leaners (34%) say the phrase “gives all people an equal opportunity to be successful” describes socialism extremely or very well, just 11% of Republicans and say the same. Nearly seven-in-ten Republicans and Republican leaners (69%) say this phrase does not describe socialism well, with 44% saying it does not describe socialism at all well.
Conversely, while a majority of Republicans (56%) associate capitalism with giving people an equal opportunity for success, just 20% of Democrats say this phrase describes capitalism extremely or very well. Nearly half of Democrats (48%) say it characterizes capitalism not too or not at all well.
The pattern of partisan responses to the phrase “makes sure everyone’s basic needs, such as food, health care, and housing, are met” is largely similar to that of equal opportunity. Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to say this phrase describes socialism extremely or very well (56% vs. 19%) and to say this does not describe capitalism (62% vs. 38%).
And Republicans are 43 percentage points more likely than Democrats to say “restricts people’s individual freedoms” describes socialism extremely or very well (62% vs. 19%). Partisan differences in the shares using this description for capitalism are more modest, with 14% of Republicans and 19% of Democrats saying it describes capitalism extremely or very well.
Democrats who view socialism negatively are skeptical it makes sure that people’s basic needs are met
The majority of Democrats who view socialism positively (57% of all Democrats and Democratic leaners) are much more likely than those who view it negatively to say it gives all people a chance to succeed and ensure their needs are met.
Among Democrats with a positive impression of socialism, nearly half (48%) say the phrase “gives all people an equal opportunity to be successful” describes socialism extremely or very well, while just 10% say it describes socialism not too or not at all well.
By comparison, only 14% of those with a negative impression of socialism say this phrase characterizes socialism at least very well.
An even larger share of Democrats with a positive impression of socialism (71%) say “makes sure everyone’s basic needs, such as food, health care, and housing, are met” describes socialism extremely or very well. Only about a third of Democrats with a negative impression of socialism (34%) say the same.
Conversely, Democrats with a negative impression of socialism are more likely to say that socialism restricts people’s individual’s freedoms. Roughly three-in-ten (29%) say this, compared with just 12% of Democrats who have a positive impression of socialism.
Democrats’ views of leaders who identify as democratic socialists
Overall, a third of Democrats and Democratic leaners say they like political leaders who identify as democratic socialists, while 18% dislike such leaders, a separate Pew Research Center survey conducted June 27-July 4 found. Nearly half of Democrats (47%) say they neither like nor dislike political leaders who call themselves democratic socialists. These shares are essentially unchanged over the past year.
Among Democrats, ideology and age are both closely associated with views of political leaders who identify as democratic socialists. This mirrors the pattern of opinion on the term “socialism” – with younger Democrats and liberal Democrats more positive about both democratic socialists and the overall term “socialism” than older Democrats and conservative or moderate Democrats.
Half of liberal Democrats express favorable views of those who identify as democratic socialists, including 26% who like such leaders “a lot.” Only about one-in-ten liberal Democrats (12%) say they dislike leaders who say they are democratic socialists, while another 38% neither like nor dislike such leaders.
By contrast, conservative or moderate Democrats are somewhat more likely to say they dislike (24%) than like (19%) such leaders; 55% neither like nor dislike leaders who use this term to describe themselves.
On balance, younger Democrats like leaders who describe themselves as democratic socialists: Among those under 50, 37% like such leaders while 15% dislike them. By comparison, opinion of democratic socialists is more divided among those 50 and older: 28% like political leaders who identify as democratic socialists, while 22% dislike such leaders.