42% of millennials describe themselves as "socialist." Only 16% know what socialism actually is.
Via the great researchers over at Reason comes a poll that will leave you with a great big facepalm.
Millennials use language differently than Boomers and Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980). In the Reason-Rupe poll, about 62% of Millennials call themselves liberal. By that, they mean the favor gay marriage and pot legalization, but those views hold little or no implication for their views on government spending. To Millennials, being socially liberal is being liberal, period. For most older Americans, calling yourself a liberal means you want to increase the size, scope, and spending of the government (it may not even mean you support legal pot and marriage equality). Despite the strong liberal tilt among Millennials, 53% say they would support a candidate who was socially liberal and fiscally conservative (are you listening, major parties?).
There are other areas where language doesn’t track neatly with Boomer and Gen X definitions. Millennials have no first-hand memories of the Soviet Union or the Cold War. Forty-two percent say they prefer socialism as a means of organizing society but only 16% can define the term properly as government ownership of the means of production. In fact, when asked whether they want an economy managed by the free market or by the government, 64% want the former and just 32% want the latter. Scratch a Millennial “socialist” and you are likely to find a budding entrepreneur (55% saying they want to start their own business someday). Although they support a government-provided social safety net, two-thirds of Millennials agree that “government is usually inefficient and wasteful” and they are highly skeptical toward government with regards to privacy and nanny-state regulations about e-cigarettes, soda sizes, and the like.
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There’s definitely some good news in there too. Free markets are something that come naturally to most millennials. They want to get paid what they’re owed. The want to get rewarded financially when they work harder or smarter than everyone else. They don’t really support the nationalization of industry.
I think the gap here is an educational one, and the GOP certainly isn’t doing a good job closing the gap. The Democrats have the benefit of owning practically all of the mainstream media and public education.
The only group I see out there actually doing a good job education young voters and those about to start voting about free markets is Libertarians. That’s because Libertarians do a much better job at sticking to principles and not just playing politics, even in casual debate between friends or over the internet.
In my own experience, virtually every millennial I’ve ever talked to about politics agrees on the central point that government should stay out of the lives and businesses of individuals unless they infringe on the rights or property of others. That’s about the best starting block you can have.