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Socialism, Capitalism Ratings in U.S. Unchanged

Socialism, Capitalism Ratings in U.S. Unchanged

Story Highlights

  • Capitalism viewed positively by 60%; socialism, by 38%
  • Positive image of big business down six points to 46%
  • Democrats continue to view socialism more positively than capitalism

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans remain much more positive toward capitalism than socialism, and their ratings of each have been largely stable over the past decade-plus.

Line graph. Americans' positive ratings of capitalism and socialism. Sixty percent of U.S. adults in 2021 have a positive image of capitalism, and 38% have a positive image of socialism. These ratings have been stable over time.

These results are based on an Oct. 1-19 Gallup survey. Since 2010, Gallup has measured Americans' basic opinions of several economic or governmental terms, including capitalism and socialism. Their views of socialism have held steady, even as Sen. Bernie Sanders and progressive Democratic politicians have pursued an expanded government role in addressing healthcare, poverty and early childhood education -- policies their critics describe as moving the U.S. toward socialism. Likewise, Americans' opinions of capitalism have not varied, even with greater discussion of income inequality in the U.S. and the concentration of U.S. wealth in a small percentage of people.

Socialism ties with "the federal government" as the lowest rated of the six terms included in the 2021 survey. In contrast, Americans are most positive toward small business and free enterprise, while they are slightly more negative than positive toward big business.

Americans' Positive and Negative Ratings of Economic and Governmental Terms
Just off the top of your head, would you say you have a positive or negative image of each of the following. How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?
Positive Negative
% %
Small business 97 3
Free enterprise 84 13
Capitalism 60 38
Big business 46 53
Socialism 38 59
The federal government 38 62
"No opinion" percentages not shown
Gallup, Oct. 1-19, 2021

Ratings of Big Business Dip

Gallup has assessed Americans' opinions of these terms on six occasions since 2010. Their opinions on each have not moved much, apart from a significant decline in positive ratings of the federal government over time, from as high as 51% in 2012 to 38% in both the 2019 and 2021 surveys.

This year's survey did show a modest decline in positive ratings of big business, from 52% to 46%, which mirrors declines in confidence in the institution of big business and in satisfaction with the size and influence of major corporations.

Line graph. Americans' positive ratings of economic and governmental terms. Ninety-seven percent of U.S. adults have a positive image of small business and 84% have a positive image of free enterprise. Meanwhile, 46% have a positive image of big business and 38% have a positive image of the federal government. Opinions of small business and free enterprise have been stable over time, while ratings of big business and the federal government are less positive today than in past years.

Just as Republicans are responsible for the overall decreases in public confidence in big business and satisfaction with corporate influence, shifting Republican views account for the less-positive perceptions of big business. Currently, 56% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, down from 72% in 2019, have a positive opinion of big business. Democrats' and Democratic leaners' views are stable, at 36%.

Line graph. Positive images of big business by political party. Fifty-six percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents have a positive opinion of big business in 2021. In most years, about 60% of Republicans have had a positive view, except for 2012, when 75% did, and 72% in 2019. Democrats and Democratic leaners have consistently been less positive toward big business than Republicans are, with the latter's percentages slightly above 40% between 2010 and 2016 and slightly below 40% since then, including 36% in the current survey.

Republicans' dimmed views of big business coincide with a period when many Republican leaders and media personalities have publicly criticized large corporations for activism on social issues like racial justice, diversity and inclusion, and climate change. Many Republicans have also spoken out against large technology companies like Twitter and Facebook because they believe those companies are censoring conservative viewpoints.

Even so, Republicans still view big business positively overall, and more positively than Democrats do.

Republicans, Democrats Diverge on Opinions of Capitalism and Socialism

Majorities of Republicans and Democrats have positive opinions of capitalism, but Republicans rate it higher. Whereas roughly seven in 10 Republicans and Republican leaners have viewed capitalism positively since 2010, about half of Democrats have done so. This year, 72% of Republicans and 52% of Democrats have a positive image of capitalism.

Line graph. In 2021, 72% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents have a positive view of capitalism and 52% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents do, generally similar to their ratings since 2010.

The two partisan groups' opinions of socialism diverge even more, with 14% of Republicans and 65% of Democrats saying they have a positive image of it. Democrats' opinions of socialism have gotten slightly more positive over the years, moving from 53% in 2010 and 2012 to over 60% in the past two surveys. Republicans have become slightly less positive toward socialism than they were in the initial surveys.

Line graph. Positive ratings of socialism by political party. Sixty-five percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents in 2021 have a positive view of socialism, compared with 14% of Republicans.

Since 2018, Democrats have rated socialism more positively than they have rated capitalism. Before that, they held similar views of the two economic systems.

Bottom Line

Americans' opinions of capitalism have generally been stable over the past decade, with around six in 10 having a positive view of capitalism and slightly fewer than four in 10 having a positive view of socialism. Democrats view both economic systems favorably, but have become more positive toward socialism than capitalism.

Recent Gallup research found that Americans, particularly Democrats, are most likely to think of socialism in terms of equality and government provision of benefits and services. When Gallup polled Americans on the meaning of socialism in 1949, the largest proportion described it in the traditional sense as government ownership of the means of economic production. Thus, the meaning of the term to Americans is evolving, but most still view it negatively.

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