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Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Sunday, April 12, 2009 carried an article by Kristin Schall where she "explains" the results of a recent Rasmussen poll which asked, "which is a better system-capitalism or socialism?" Here's the article:
Rasmussen Poll Indicates American Shift Toward Socialism
by Kristin Schall

In an April 2009 poll conducted by Rasmussen, respondents were asked "which is a better system-capitalism or socialism?" Just 53% of adult Americans prefer capitalism, 20% of respondents favor socialism and 27% responded not sure. These figures suggest that Americans' attitudes toward alternatives to capitalism may be shifting and that we are living in a time that holds the potential to mark a radical change in the landscape of American politics.

The Rasmussen poll was conducted during one of the greatest economic crisises in the history of capitalism. The resulting pressure is forcing Americans to begin to think critically about ideas that they had previously accepted as given. With more and more people facing the prospect of losing their jobs, houses, healthcare, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the inequalities and injustices of capitalism. What this has translated to is people becoming more open to ideas about alternative visions for structuring society. In short, socialism is back.

In addition to the economic crisis, the right wing's accusation of Obama being a socialist appears to be backfiring. Conservatives were attempting to cash in on a well established strategy of 20th century American political life. These attacks have unintentionally served to get socialism into heavy rotation in the mainstream media, thereby increasing the public's interest and curiosity. Fear mongering and the paranoid style seem to be offering declining political returns.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this poll is the response from people under thirty. The statistics indicate that 66% of this demographic are actively questioning capitalism as a system. This makes clear that the Cold War fear of socialism, created to shape the American mindset, is withering away. It is being replaced by a political openness to new ideas about how to organize society. This means there is a space for socialists where a serious dialogue can begin, which can connect Americans to grassroots organizing.

The limitation of the poll is that it does not define socialism. Socialists themselves need to carry out this task. The Socialist Party-USA is interested in finding out how people conceive of socialism and in meeting them where they are. Our conception of socialism is a democratic society where people have access to what they need in order to live a full life. Human needs are always put before private profits. This includes healthcare, education, access to jobs, and a clean environment. Socialists hope that the moment for polling will soon be past, and we will find ourselves in a moment of action for radical social and political change.

Kristin Schall is the chairperson of the Socialist Party USA, NYC Local.
Ms. Schall FAILS! I went and found the Rasmussen poll she used for her piece [of shit] and discovered she conveniently omitted several key points. I'm sure they weren't relevant to the point she was so obviously trying to make. Here's the rest of what Rasmussen said:
Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided. Thirty-somethings are a bit more supportive of the free-enterprise approach with 49% for capitalism and 26% for socialism. Adults over 40 strongly favor capitalism, and just 13% of those older Americans believe socialism is better.

Investors by a 5-to-1 margin choose capitalism. As for those who do not invest, 40% say capitalism is better while 25% prefer socialism.

There is a partisan gap as well. Republicans - by an 11-to-1 margin - favor capitalism. Democrats are much more closely divided: Just 39% say capitalism is better while 30% prefer socialism. As for those not affiliated with either major political party, 48% say capitalism is best, and 21% opt for socialism.

The question posed by Rasmussen Reports did not define either capitalism or socialism

It is interesting to compare the new results to an earlier survey in which 70% of Americans prefer a free-market economy. The fact that a "free-market economy" attracts substantially more support than "capitalism" may suggest some skepticism about whether capitalism in the United States today relies on free markets.

Other survey data supports that notion. Rather than seeing large corporations as committed to free markets, two-out-of-three Americans believe that big government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors.

Fifteen percent (15%) of Americans say they prefer a government-managed economy, similar to the 20% support for socialism. Just 14% believe the federal government would do a better job running auto companies, and even fewer believe government would do a better job running financial firms.

Most Americans today hold views that can generally be defined as populist while only seven percent (7%) share the elitist views of the Political Class.
As it has always been, the young, have-nothings tend to favor a system that redistributes wealth. The older one gets, the more they acquire through hard work, the less likely they are to favor a system that takes from their pile to put in others. No surprise there, really. And when they've worked their entire lives to build nest eggs, guess what? The vast majority tend to guard them very closely.

The only thing that has changed here is the question they asked. The sentiment of the people is still the same. If anything, this poll should be greatly discounted because, "the question posed by Rasmussen Reports did not define either capitalism or socialism." I strongly suspect that very few could accurately define what either were.

I suspect that when asked whether people preferred capitalism to socialism, people conjured thoughts of big, faceless corporations trampling little businesses and workers. Some may have even pictured those same evil corporations in collusion with government, as Rassmussen's findings suggest, hurting the marketplace. But that's not really capitalism. It more closely resembles corporatism or perhaps the beginnings of fascism or communism.

I think this goes back to understanding what capitalism, socialism, fascism, corporatism, or any other kind of -ism means. Hell, even Newsweek magazine got it wrong when they declared "We are all Socialists Now." What they described in their article was fascism.

As always, the devil is in the details.


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