Young voters support Sanders and socialism–but do they even know what socialism means?

The age gap in 2016 Democratic primary is well documented. Here’s just one example from the latest Morning Consult Poll:

Screenshot 2016-05-24 22.45.51

The age gap is commonly attributed to older voters fear of a self proclaimed socialist. They lived though the cold war and were strongly socialized into a belief in free markets. Younger voters, who didn’t live through the Cold War, have no such bias.

There is a good amount of empirical support for these claims. Sanders’ socialism seems quite central to his brand–it’s the top unaided response to his name according to a Gallup poll. Secondly, there is a large age gap around opinion of socialism. Again using a Gallup poll, 55% of voters age 18-29 view socialism favorably compared to just 24% of Americans age 65 and older.

Young voters support of Sanders and socialism more generally this trend is interpreted as an ideological shift to the left. But the evidence for the shift comes from faulty seat of the pants reasoning. It goes as follows: Bernie Sanders is a crotchety old man. There’s no reason that young people should like him based on anything other than policy. Plus, there more supportive of socialism. Thus, millennials must be more liberal than their older counterparts.

While people writing on the internet may be very logical, the average voter isn’t. Complicated post hoc justifications for voter behavior based on ideology are almost always wrong.

For instance, increasing millennial support for socialism is much less indicative of leftist leanings then it would appear. When millennials are asked to choose between capitalism and socialism, capitalism wins by 10 points. But when asked to choose between a government managed economy and a free market economy, the free market wins by 32 points. A 2010 CBS/NYT poll found that “only 16 percent of millennials could define socialism as government ownership, or some variation thereof.”

Rather than an increasing liberal ideology, support for socialism and by extension Sanders comes more from confused ignorance.

Perhaps policy specific polling questions could prove an ideological rooting in Sanders’ supporters. But even then respondents commonly pick candidates then pick policy positions that match those of their preferred candidate. Other times, answers to policy specific polling questions are simply reflexive. Answers are not indicative of sustained thought, and quickly change in response to new information. For instance, when Sanders supporters were asked how much they’d be willing to pay for his proposals, their answers fell well short of what would be required.

The bottom line is that most voters are ill informed and fickle about matters of policy. Ideological movements aren’t formed overnight. While millennial voters overwhelmingly go for Sanders , you can’t extrapolate an ideological movement from one election with only one alternative candidate.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Young voters support Sanders and socialism–but do they even know what socialism means?

  1. Maybe next time read through the whole poll rather than stopping as soon as you find something that supports what you want to be true. For one, the question you refer to, “Would you say the government is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves or that it is run for the benefit of all the people?” is not at all indicative of ideology. In fact, more Republicans think that government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves than Democrats do. Just going to the next question, Sanders supporters are 20 points more likely to say government wastes a lot of money than Clinton supporters–a question is much more indicative of ideology, as conservatives are more likely to say the government wastes money than liberals.
    To be fair, Sanders supporters do favor liberal policies like single payer health care and free college slightly more than Clinton supporters. But as I wrote, these types of questions show that Sanders supporters are able to match their preferred candidate to his policy positions, not a real ideological mooring toward more liberal policy: “Perhaps policy specific polling questions could prove an ideological rooting in Sanders’ supporters. But even then respondents commonly pick candidates then pick policy positions that match those of their preferred candidate.”
    The best way to measure ideology is to avoid very policy specific questions that both candidates have clear positions on, like single payer health care or free college. To do this, we can refer to the Yougov question referring to respondents preferences regarding government spending and taxes. Government spending and taxes are perhaps the clearest way to measure ideology and central to one’s opinion about the role of government. Here, Sanders and Clinton supporters are virtually identical in their opinions. Finding that Sanders voters are no more liberal than Clinton’s is also in line with other political science research, (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/06/07/no-sanders-supporters-are-not-more-liberal-than-clintons-heres-what-really-drives-elections/) and strongly challenges claims that Sanders represents a new leftward ideological movement in Democratic politics.

    Like

    1. I did not intend to use that question, just said that page for a starting point for policies. As shown by the graph in this tweet, there are pretty big gaps between Sanders supporters and Clinton supporters on trade, climate change, and the infamous foreign policy terrorism issue, which Hawkish Hillary is infamous for.

      I’ll take a look at the article later, but there does seem to be no consensus among experts yet.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s