If conservatives who use the word “socialist” to describe their opponents are hysterical and McCarthyite, then what are liberals and Democrats who self-describe as such? The answer, it turns out, is Gallup respondents. In a survey that ask interviewees to react positively or negatively to political words, Gallup discovered that:
Democrats have roughly similar reactions to capitalism (55% positive) and socialism (53%), while Republicans are much more positive about the former than the latter, by 72% to 23%, respectively.
The full results are below:
There is much here that is unsurprising, much that is peculiar, and much that is worrying. There is also some confusion. Whatever intellectual jujitsu is necessary to reconcile overwhelmingly positive views of the “federal government” and “socialism” with a favorable attitude toward “entrepreneurs,” presumably cannot be employed to explain how Democrats and Democratic leaners can simultaneously have positive views of “socialism” and of “free enterprise” — unless, that is, they don’t know what the terms mean, or have redefined them beyond any meaning. Conservatives, meanwhile, especially those of a more libertarian bent, might be disappointed to see that Republicans and Republican leaners have higher regard for “big business” than they do for “capitalism.” The perennial debate over the distinction between the two to one side, to have a more favorable view of big business than of capitalism is rather to put the cart before the horse.
My suspicion here, conveniently enough, is that this is pimarily a problem with our political language. It certainly doesn’t help that the two main descriptors — “conservative” and “liberal” — no longer accurately describe the broad political positions of the two parties (“radical classical liberal” and “statist” would do better, I think), or that the president spent the campaign season cynically messing with terms (consider that the architect of Obamacare repeatedly accused Republicans of wanting “get between you and your doctor”). Orwell noted that “it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic cause.” It has political and economic consequences, too, as Gallup may have just discovered.