Surveys sometimes reveal frightening or shocking things that Americans believe. A new survey by the American Culture & Faith Institute provides such a stunning insight.

Four out of ten American adults (40%) claim that they prefer socialism to capitalism.

That means, of course, that about six out of ten prefer capitalism to socialism. However, the numbers of those who prefer socialism have been steadily rising over the past few years, according to researcher George Barna, who directed the survey. And even though younger people were more likely than their elders to embrace the notion of a socialist America, substantial numbers of older Americans bought into the premise as well. About half of Millennials (52%) said they would prefer socialism, compared to 45% of the Gen X respondents, more than one-third of Boomers (37%), and one-quarter (26%) of those 65 or older.

The survey found significant proportions of various population groups unexpectedly leaning toward socialism. Those segments included one out of every five political conservatives (21%), three out of ten born again Christians (30%), one-fourth of those who are theologically conservative (24%), one in six adults with a biblical worldview (15%), and more than four out of ten residents of the South (43%).

Inconsistency Was Evident

The survey revealed, however, that the term “socialism” may not be widely understood by Americans. That insight was revealed through several testing approaches.

For instance, the results found that when the 2,000 survey respondents were asked whether they preferred capitalism or socialism, and their answers were compared to their preferred form of government in specific governance situations, those who claimed to prefer capitalism consistently chose the capitalist perspective in 17% of the situations tested while a mere 2% of those who claimed to prefer socialism consistently opted for that form of government in the situational testing. Those outcomes indicate that the governance preferences of the remaining four out of five people formed an irregular patchwork of both governance approaches.

Specific Preferences Tilted Toward Capitalism

The survey asked respondents to choose between two opposing approaches to life on seven different dimensions. Amazingly, a larger share of respondents – and, in most cases, a much larger share – indicated a preference for the capitalist principles and behaviors, believing it would lead to a better society than the foundational practices a socialist society would produce.

  • An overwhelming ratio of adults (12-to-1) says they prefer a nation with individual ownership of private property to one where all property is owned by the government (82% – 7%)
  • By a 6-to-1 ratio, Americans want a government that takes its direction from the people rather than to live in a nation where the population takes its direction from the government (76% – 12%)
  • Economically, there are six Americans who want a country featuring prices of goods based on the free market for every one person who prefers to have the price of goods determined by government policies (75% – 12%)
  • Americans prefer a society based on self-reliance instead of government reliance by a 5:1 ratio (69% – 14%)
  • U.S. citizens are four times more likely to desire an economy based on private enterprise than one based upon government-run industries (65% – 15%)
  • Americans are more than three times as likely to opt for a government with limited power and an agenda defined and monitored by the public than to desire a government with high ideals and unlimited authority to pursue those ideals (67% – 19%)
  • People are twice as likely to want a government of servant-leaders whose job is to discern and carry out the will of the people to a government of experts who have good intentions and substantial power to make decisions for the people (60% – 28%)

Fast Transition

The research revealed that after people had answered roughly three dozen questions about their preferred form of government and the reasons for those preferences, a significant share of the population realized they did not know enough about these matters to have a viable opinion.

Specifically, respondents were asked several summary questions toward the end of the survey. The first of those questions asked them (again) which economic system they personally preferred. At the start of the survey, 40% had said they preferred socialism. At the tail end of the process, only 25% said they preferred socialism, a 15-percentage-point slide. The preference for capitalism slipped from 60% to 45%, also a 15-point decline. The biggest shift of all was that 28% admitted they did not know which economic system they preferred. (A handful chose communism.)

Respondents were then asked which economic system best describes the United States today. Two-thirds of adults (65%) stated that the U.S. is a capitalist nation. One-eighth of the respondents (12%) claimed the U.S. is socialist, while a larger share (19%) admitted they do not know.

When asked where the U.S. is headed in the future, even greater ambiguity emerged. A plurality (40%) said the United States will be a capitalist society, while half as many (21%) said it will be socialist, and almost three out of ten (29%) said they do not know.

Finally, respondents were asked which economic system is most compatible with the life principles taught in the Bible. The largest share of respondents – nearly four out of ten (39%) – said they do not know. The rest were spread almost evenly between socialism (30%) and capitalism (26%).

The replies of people from religious segments regarding the relationship between forms of governance and biblical principles were intriguing. A plurality of born again Christians (40%) opted for capitalism while easily the largest share of non-born again adults (42%) said they did not know which form of government best exemplified biblical principles.  Likewise, the largest proportions of people aligned with non-Christian faiths (40%) and Skeptics (53%) said they did not know. While Protestants were more likely to choose capitalism than socialism, Catholics did the opposite. Almost six out of ten people with a biblical worldview chose capitalism while those who held a different worldview were more likely to name socialism as best reflecting biblical principles.

Reliance on Government

The survey indicated that while people might be confused about capitalism and socialism, they have no doubt that they want their government to take the lead in addressing many specific cultural needs.

Survey respondents were asked which of five decision-making entities was best-equipped to most often make good decisions for the public in relation to each of eight social dimensions. The five decision-making entities were government, business, individuals and families, non-profit organizations, and churches.

Government was identified by the largest share of people as the best decision-maker related to gun policies (56%), laws concerning pornography (53%), reducing poverty (51%), developing economic policies and practices (50%), and addressing environmental concerns (47%).

In fact, the only area for which government was not the clear preference for making the determining choices was related to moral standards, In that case, individuals and families were identified as the best decision-maker – by a whopping 5-to-1 margin.

In addition, people were evenly divided on which would be the better decision-maker concerning free speech (a toss-up between government and individuals) and healthcare policies (also a tie between government and individuals).

Churches and non-profit organizations were not deemed to be the best decision-makers for any of the eight areas evaluated.

Need for Education

George Barna, who led the survey process for the American Culture & Faith Institute, noted that the research underscored the public’s lack of understanding of capitalism, socialism, and the governance process.

“This and other studies suggest that millions of Americans know little about our national economic and governance systems,” Barna commented. “Because the quality of decisions made hinges upon the depth of information and understanding possessed by the decision-maker, our nation is suffering from the reality that its people are ill-informed about the fundamental workings of the society in which they live. In a democratic republic, like America, that can have debilitating consequences for the health and well-being of that society.

“The lack of insight into how our national systems work is undoubtedly connected to the growing divisiveness in our society,” the researcher continued. “Hindered by a lack of information and insight, people are more easily swayed by superficial or tangential arguments. It also helps to explain why so-called ‘fake news’ can have such a devastating impact upon the choices people make and the quality of life they experience.”

About the Research

The research described in this report is drawn from FullView™, a monthly nationwide survey with a randomly-selected sample of adults, age 18 or older, whose demographic profile reflects that of the adult population. This analysis is based on an online survey conducted among 2,000 adults between January 26 – February 4, 2018.

Survey Definitions

Millennials: people born between 1984 and 2002.

Gen X: people born between 1965 and 1983.

Boomers: people born between 1946 and 1964.

Born again Christians are people who consider themselves as Christian and believe that when they die they will go to Heaven only because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. Being born again is NOT based on describing oneself as “born again” and it is not based on church attendance.

About ACFI and Its Research

The American Culture & Faith Institute is a division of United in Purpose, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. The mission of United in Purpose is to educate, motivate and activate conservative Christians to engage in cultural transformation in ways that are consistent with biblical principles. The organization does not support or promote individual political candidates or parties.

For access to many other studies conducted by ACFI, please visit the company website (www.culturefaith.com). To receive a free copy of the research reports produced by ACFI, visit the website and register for the American Culture Review newsletter.