Socialism's base is the poor, and capitalism's base is the rich
More on Pew's recent polling results about socialism and capitalism.
In my last post, I discussed some new polling from Pew Research which shows that socialism’s popularity on the US has been on the decline. Here I’d like to unpack some different numbers:
Pew, God bless them, actually asked respondents about their income. And the trends, while extremely broad, are nevertheless directly at odds with popular reactionary narratives about support of socialism and capitalism in the US. Here’s a common variation on this theme:
I’m extremely skeptical of this theory that investment in cultural issues is what’s driving people away from socialism for reasons given in my last post. But even if one thinks that’s what is going on, what evidence is there that this is socialists are losing the working class in particular? If anything, the numbers point in the opposite direction: socialism does best among poor voters and worse among the middle and upper classes. This point is particularly clear when we compare socialism’s trajectory to capitalism, which rockets in a straight line from 45% approval among the poor to 70% approval among the rich. And while changes in Pew’s methodology make it impossible to look at how these numbers have shifted over the years,1 they certainly provide no evidence for Maran’s theory about working class flight; if anything, they suggest the opposite.
One common rational for these claims about an elitist socialism that’s losing the working class comes from pundit speculation about the so-called “diploma divide”: the Democratic Party’s increasing monopoly on voters with degrees. While this divide is real, efforts to characterize it as a class divide are part of a deliberate rhetorical strategy by the right to misrepresent their base of support and to derail a material analysis of our politics grounded directly in the economy. This often works because, contrary to conventional wisdom even among many socialist pundits, education is often not a good proxy measure for class.
Thus, when you look at Pew’s numbers on education, all of this conventional wisdom completely falls apart:
Here, we see that support for socialism climbs with education even though it falls with income. And any attempt to use one as a proxy for the other would completely miss this, even though all those degrees can’t actually keep you warm at night if you can’t afford a blanket.
Support for capitalism, meanwhile, rises even more steeply with education. Looking at these lines, my intuitive read is that they really just reflect the fact that people become more interested in economic systems the more educated they are; the difference in slopes are so slight that education just doesn’t seem to play a role in determining ideology that’s even remotely comparable to income.
In any case, these numbers should give pause to anyone who is tempted to map support for socialism onto the diploma divide between Democrats and Republicans. Socialists aren’t Democrats, which is quite plain when we see deteriorating support for socialism in the Democratic party; and socialism is remains a disproportionately working class ideology, in both membership and popular support.
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In 2019, Pew placed the middle income bracket between $30k and $75k a year. Today, it places that bracket at about $44 to $132k a year. This means that there is a massive $71 income range where the brackets don’t match, which is way too big to attempt an apples-to-apples comparison.