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More than a third of millennials approve of communism, YouGov poll indicates

Andy Gregory
Russian Communist supporters holding portraits of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin participate in a rally marking the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in downtown Moscow on November 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images): Getty

More than a third of millennials in the US now approve of communism, while the popularity of capitalism has plummeted since 2018, according to YouGov polling.

The survey found just 57 per cent of 23 to 38-year-olds believe the Declaration of Independence better “guarantees freedom and equality” than the Communist Manifesto, with only 50 per cent viewing capitalism favourably.

Approval of the controversial ideology rose by 8 per cent in the past year to 36 per cent, the survey of 2,100 adults found, while appreciation for capitalism dropped by the same margin.

“It’s an alternative,” said professor of political theory at San Jose University, Lawrence Quill. “The theories are so broad they lend themselves to endorsement by very different sorts of people looking for very different things.

“[Younger generations have] no memory whatsoever of the Cold War and its related ideological battlefield. There is an absence of an ‘overlapping consensus’ based on the shared experiences of war or Cold War.”

In contrast, the proportion of those harbouring favourable views of the ideology remained extremely low among “boomers” (seven per cent) and the over-74s (four per cent).

Jodi Dean, a political science professor at New York’s Hobart and William Smith Colleges, offered further reasons for the current popularity of communism among younger generations.

“First, capitalism is clearly and undeniably failing. It’s directly responsible for the climate catastrophe and everybody knows it,” Ms Dean said.

“Second, the US right calls everything it doesn’t like ‘communist’. They call Clinton and Obama ‘communists’. With ‘communist’ as the go-to name for anything that isn’t right wing, its acceptability increases. If you don’t like the right, you’re a communist.”

While this misrepresentation of communism may have helped to boost its popularity among millennials, it appears socialism is also growing in popularity with this demographic, despite general confusion over how to define the ideology.

The survey indicates that while the vast majority of Americans consider themselves knowledgeable about socialism, they are divided over whether Scandinavia, the Soviet Union or the US itself offer the best examples of a socialist nation.

Spelling mixed news for presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, 70 per cent of millennial respondents said they were likely to vote for a socialist candidate, with the number of those “extremely likely” to do so doubling in the past year to 20 per cent.

But overall, Americans were more hesitant to endorse a democratic socialist – which Mr Sanders identifies as – with a majority of those polled saying they would hesitate, or would never vote for such a candidate.

Once ideological labels were stripped away, the results appeared to suggest that many Americans could support an anti-neoliberal message.

70 per cent of those polled described economic inequality as a major issue, with nearly two thirds of respondents believing the country’s highest earners are not paying their fair share of taxes.

Nearly half of those surveyed said a “complete change of our economic system is needed”.

However, when faced with radical proposals that could facilitate such change, the generational divide was apparent.

One in five millennials polled believe “society would be better if all private property was abolished” compared to just one per cent of over-74s, while more than a third of millennials support universal basic income compared with 17 per cent of pensioners.

“Millennials are the first generation of US Americans to have life prospects worse than their parents,” Ms Dean explained. ”The astronomical student debt load means that many young people put off the major purchases and life events linked to adulthood in the US -- buying a car or a house, getting married.

“At the same time, in highly populated cities like San Francisco, LA, Seattle, and NYC, rents are out of control. And we don’t have national healthcare.

“So paying for the basics of everyday life has become impossible. And we are told repeatedly that social security is in crisis and won’t survive. As one young person told me: ‘My retirement program is socialism’.”

Mr Quill explained how instability as a result of unbridled capitalism may have influenced this lurch to the left.

“As long as unfettered capitalism could promise growth for the majority of western populations, ruminating about the effectiveness of capitalism was kept at bay,” Mr Quill said. ”As belts tighten, and the centre of economic gravity moves east, conspicuous consumption is no longer lauded at home.”

“I actually saw someone being heckled the other day because they were driving a Tesla – you’d think the green credentials of the owner would have warranted applause, but no. Extraordinary.”

The annual poll, commissioned by Victims of Communism, also indicated more than a quarter of Americans of all ages viewed Donald Trump as a greater threat to world peace than North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un (22 per cent) and Vladimir Putin (15 per cent).

“For all the criticisms of the ignorance and illiteracy of the American public (inability to identify countries on a map, confusion over basic historical facts), it is gratifying to see that more than a quarter recognise that the US is a greater danger to world peace than Korea or Russia,” Ms Dean said.

“After all, the US has hundreds of military bases all over the world and regularly destabilises and invades other countries. It has pulled out of the Paris Accord, the nuclear deal with Iran, and the INF treaty with Russia.

“Trump appears especially erratic and unhinged, but what is most striking is how he has shed the veneer of concern with human rights that has covered US militarism for decades.”

Mr Quill suggested this general view of Mr Trump is attributed to him directly, rather than the office he holds.

“It would be easy to suggest that young Americans have fallen into a funk about their country. I don’t think this is quite right,” he said. ”

My view is that young Americans do not see Trump as the new normal. They view his presidency as an aberration, a reaction against the progressivism of the Obama years, and one that will self-correct.

“They are still very optimistic about the future (except social security provision) and think that things will get fixed somehow by someone.

“The popularity of the Green New Deal among many younger people is a case in point.”

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