Red is the new black: Support for and attitudes towards socialism in Australia and the United States

Socialism is back. Well known for their love of avocados and Netflix, Millennials are now also apparently embracing the radical leftist politics of economic equality and public ownership of the means of production.

That it is young people who are seen as supporting socialism is not surprising. This support is embodied (in the United States) in the surprising insurgent candidacy of self-described socialist Senator Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2016 primaries, and the election of democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the House of Representatives in the New York 14th District in 2018. Ocasio-Cortez has also famously advocated for a “Green New Deal”, which would significantly alter the American economy (and grow the size of government).

In Australia, it partially stems from young people’s greater support for parties of the left — including Labor and the Greens — and generally low rates of voting for parties of the right.

A common thread in many of these critiques is that this Millenial support for socialism is the result of a mix of anxiety and ignorance; driven by their coming of age after the fall of the Soviet Union and Mao’s rule in China but during the Global Financial Crisis, with many finding it hard to secure the middle class lives they expected. However, these studies have often made assumptions about the ways respondents understand the term ‘socialism’. Are there generational or other differences in how it is interpreted and does this influence the way people answer questions about the topic?

To understand what Americans and Australians think of socialism,  I surveyed 1,000 respondents in the United States and 1,056 in Australia with US Studies Centre CEO Simon Jackman in late March 2019. An op-ed based on our findings can be found here.

We found that when we dug down into the attitudes of voters, despite fewer older Americans and Australians saying socialism would be good for society, they described it in broadly as positive terms as younger voters, and support many of its core tenants at roughly similar rates.

Read the full results here.

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