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Socialism as Popular as Capitalism Among Young Adults in U.S.

Socialism as Popular as Capitalism Among Young Adults in U.S.

Story Highlights

  • Half of young adults view capitalism positively, down from 66% in 2010
  • Big business also loses some appeal with young adults
  • Free enterprise maintains high rating among all age groups

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Not only is socialism's image unchanged in the U.S. over the past decade, as reported in Gallup's recent in-depth review of attitudes toward socialism and government power, but positive views of socialism are flat across the age spectrum. Since 2010, young adults' positive ratings of socialism have hovered near 50%, while the rate has been consistently near 34% for Gen Xers and near 30% for baby boomers/traditionalists.

At the same time, since 2010, young adults' overall opinion of capitalism has deteriorated to the point that capitalism and socialism are tied in popularity among this age group. This pattern was first observed in 2018 and remains the case today.

Three line graphs showing 2010-2019 trends in positive ratings for capitalism and socialism, by generational group.

The 2019 results are based on an Oct. 1-13 Gallup poll in which respondents were asked about their overall views of six different economic terms, including capitalism, socialism, free enterprise, big business, small business and entrepreneurs.

Young Adults' Views of Big Business, Free Enterprise Also Weaken

Despite the relatively high proportion of young adults who view socialism positively, a much higher 83% have a positive view of "free enterprise." This nearly matches the 88% of Gen Xers and 91% of baby boomers/traditionalists who view free enterprise positively. Still, opinions of free enterprise have weakened slightly among millennials/Gen Zers in the past few years.

All three age groups have a more subdued reaction to "big business" than free enterprise -- but the percentage viewing it positively among young adults has now fallen below 50% (to 46%). The image of big business also fell among Gen Xers between 2012 and 2018, but has since rebounded to 55%.

Three line graphs showing 2010-2019 trends in positive ratings for free enterprise and big business, by generational group.

Small Business, Entrepreneurs, Free Enterprise Score Widespread Support

Among all Americans, "small business" is universally well-regarded, with a 97% positive rating. Nine in 10 view entrepreneurs positively, and a similar proportion (87%) say the same of free enterprise, while smaller majorities of Americans are positive toward capitalism (60%) and big business (52%).

There are no meaningful differences in the various generations' views of small business or entrepreneurs, with high percentages of all age groups viewing both positively.

Socialism is the only economic system rated positively by less than half of the public, now at 39%.

Americans' Views of Six Economic Terms
Just off the top of your head, would you say you have a positive or negative image of each of the following?
Positive Negative No opinion
% % %
Small business 97 3 *
Entrepreneurs 90 8 1
Free enterprise 87 10 3
Capitalism 60 35 4
Big business 52 48 *
Socialism 39 57 3
* = less than 0.5%
Gallup, Oct. 1-13, 2019

Bottom Line

Young adults mirror the country as a whole in having a range of reactions to the terms commonly used to describe aspects of the U.S. economic system. Small business, entrepreneurs and free enterprise earn positive reactions from large majorities of all age groups, while fewer view big business and capitalism favorably. Where young adults differ from older generations is their particularly low ratings of capitalism and big business combined with their relatively high rating of socialism. Taken together, their different reactions to the terms suggest that young adults favor Americans' basic economic freedoms but have heightened concerns about the power that accrues as companies grow, and that younger generations are more comfortable with using government to check that power.

Read more about Gallup trends on socialism, capitalism and the level of government involvement that Americans want in solving the country's problems.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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