Political labels to love and hate

The Pew Research Centre has conducted a survey on what the American public thinks of various labels.

37% negative reaction to the term ‘capitalism’ seems rather high for the US, even allowing for the current down in the US economy. But we should not forget the number one empirical finding of global public opinion research, that the public knows very little about politics:

Perhaps surprisingly, opinions about the terms “socialism” and “capitalism” are not correlated with each other. Most of those who have a positive reaction to “socialism” also have a positive reaction to “capitalism”; in fact, views of “capitalism” are about the same among those who react positively to “socialism” as they are among those who react negatively (52% and 56%, respectively, view “capitalism” positively).

Hint to US public: ‘socialism’ is like the whole country being run the same way as the US Mail, and not being allowed to complain.

Until I read the full Pew article, I was impressed that so many people knew what ‘libertarianism’ was and rated it positively. But now I suspect that many respondents liked both ‘socialism’ and ‘libertarianism’.

12 thoughts on “Political labels to love and hate

  1. Andrew

    Why no liberalism? I mean, come on. The whole 20th century was precisely about liberalism v socialism!


  2. I’d love to see what would happen if they included atheists. The polls I’ve seen, rate atheists as the most hated people in America, even more dan dem Ay-rabs, and ‘faggots!”


  3. Not all the results of the survey have been released, so it is possible that there is more to come.


  4. It doesn’t surprise me that 37% have a negative reaction to the term ‘capitalism’. A critical element of capitalism is the creative destruction which causes at least short-term pain for many people throughout their lives. They may acknowledge that capitalism is the best option available, but that doesn’t mean they will have completely positive feelings towards it.
    It’s a bit like fire: I’m very glad we have it, but plenty of people get burned.


  5. Peter, being an American poll, they could not use the term “liberalism” since the term has a different meaning there (equivalent to progressivism perhaps, or just “left-wing”).

    Some there use the term “Classical Liberal”, but this usage is quite obscure. “Libertarian” is a very close proxy, with very few people there being able to clearly differentiate the two (I would struggle myself, even after a quick check of wikipedia to try to educate myself, to no avail.)


  6. Peter – I don’t think an absolutely clear intellectual line can be drawn between classical liberalism and libertarianism – both are ideologies of individual freedom, markets and limited government. However in practice libertarians tend to be more rights-oriented and radical. See this post.


  7. Interesting to see Libertarian get a better reaction amongst Democrats than amongst Republicans.

    I’d love to see this kind of poll in Australia!


  8. I wonder if most of those who have a positive reaction to ‘progressive’ would also have a positive reaction to ‘conservative’ (as for socialism and capitalism).
    I also wonder whether we should expect similar results if this poll was conducted in Australia.


  9. I am curious on the term ‘progressive’. Can someone please educate me on what this means, as I always thought it was quite similar to a liberal, but I guess they’re not.


  10. In the US context, a ‘progressive’ would be someone who typically sides with more equality in contemporary political debates, and opposes most or all of what the people called ‘conservatives’ happen to believe at a given time.


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