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Poll: Young Americans evenly split on views of capitalism; socialism growing more popular

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Young Americans are now nearly evenly split on whether capitalism is a positive good, as socialism continues to grow in popularity among certain groups, according to a new Axios/Momentive poll.

The survey, which tracks shifting attitudes on the economy and perceptions of capitalism, shows that after the unprecedented government intervention in the U.S. economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans of all political persuasions are re-evaluating their beliefs about capitalism.

Overall, a majority of Americans still have a positive view of capitalism (57%), while 36% say they have a negative view, a slight change from two years ago when a similar survey found a 61-36 split in January 2019.

The change is exclusively driven by young adults. In the newest poll, adults ages 18-34 are almost evenly divided between those who view capitalism positively (49%) and those who do not (46%). In the 2019 survey, there was a 20-point-gap in favor of capitalism (58% positive vs. 38% negative) among the same age group. Adults older than 35 have not changed their views in the past two years, and strong majorities view capitalism positively.

Generation Z is majority negative on capitalism. Only 42% of Americans ages 18-24 have a positive view of capitalism, and 54% reported having a negative view.

The partisan breakdown of the beliefs of younger Americans shows a growing skepticism of capitalism even among Republicans.

A surprising 66% of Republicans and those that lean toward the GOP have a positive view of capitalism, down from 81% in January 2019. A majority of younger Republicans, 56%, say the government should pursue policies that reduce the wealth gap. Two years ago, only 40% of Republicans under 35 said so.

Positive reactions to socialism have slightly increased. In 2019, just 39% of U.S. adults had a positive view of socialism. Today, that number has increased to 41%.

Socialism is viewed positively by 60% of black Americans, 49% of Hispanics, 45% of American women, and 33% of non-white Republicans. Just 48% of American women view capitalism positively.

These shifting attitudes present a messaging problem for those who support free markets. The survey results suggest that reflexive attacks on Democrats and President Joe Biden accusing the left of advancing a socialist agenda may not have the persuasive power they once held. The poll also challenges advocates for capitalism to better communicate their benefits, demonstrate how economic unfairness is not the result of a free market, and teach how socialism has failed and cannot address the problems many Americans see in the economy.

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