POSTED BY: Jim Ittenbach | May 6, 2010
Them’s fightin’ words, but what do they really mean? And what do we think they mean?
From The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press
A new national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press tested reactions to words and phrases frequently used in current political discourse.
“Socialism” is a negative for most Americans, but certainly not all Americans. “Capitalism” is regarded positively by a majority of the public, though it is a thin majority.
There are certain segments of the public – notably, young people and Democrats – where both “isms” are rated about equally. And while most Americans have a negative reaction to the word “militia,” the term is viewed more positively by Republican men than most other groups.
Overall, 29% say they have a positive reaction to the word “socialism,” while 59% react negatively. The public’s impressions of “capitalism,” though far more positive, are somewhat mixed. Slightly more than half (52%) react positively to the word “capitalism,” compared with 37% who say they have a negative reaction.
A large majority of Republicans (77%) react negatively to “socialism,” while 62% have a positive reaction to “capitalism.” Democrats’ impressions are more divided: In fact, about as many Democrats react positively to “socialism” (44%) as to “capitalism” (47%).
Reaction to “capitalism” is lukewarm among many demographic groups. Fewer than half of young people, women, people with lower incomes and those with less education react positively to “capitalism.”
The survey, conducted April 21-26, 2010, among 1,546 adults, measured reactions to nine political words and phrases. The most positive reactions are to “family values” (89% positive) and “civil rights” (87%). About three-quarters see “states’ rights” (77%) and “civil liberties” (76%) positively, while 68% have a positive reaction to the word “progressive.”
Reactions to the word “libertarian” are evenly divided – 38% positive, 37% negative. On balance, Republicans view “libertarian” negatively, Democrats are divided, while independents have a positive impression of the term. “Militia” elicits the most negative reaction of the nine terms tested: Just 21% have a positive reaction compared with 65% who have a negative response.
The most striking partisan differences come in reactions to the word “socialism.” Just 15% of Republicans react positively to “socialism” while 77% react negatively. By more than two-to-one (64% to 26%), independents also have a negative impression of “socialism.” However, Democrats are evenly divided – 44% have a positive reaction to “socialism” while 43% react negatively.
“Capitalism” elicits a less partisan reaction. About six-in-ten Republicans (62%) react positively to “capitalism,” compared with 29% who have a negative reaction. About half of independents (52%) have a positive impression while 39% react negatively. Among Democrats, 47% react positively to “capitalism” while nearly as many (43%) react negatively.
There is a substantial partisan divide in views of the word “progressive.” However, majorities of Democrats (81%), independents (64%) and Republicans (56%) have a positive reaction to “progressive.”
More than four-in-ten independents (44%) react positively to the word “libertarian,” while 32% have a negative reaction. Democrats are nearly evenly divided (39% positive, 37% negative). However, Republicans on balance have a negative impression of this term (44% negative, 31% positive).
Majorities of Democrats (70%), independents (66%) and Republicans (59%) react negatively to the word “militia.” Nearly twice as many Republicans (27%) as Democrats (15%) have a positive view of this term.
For the rest of the report, click here.