A new survey suggests that the often-vilified political theory of shared economic responsibility isn't viewed as negatively as some might expect, and that the reviews for capitalism are decidedly mixed, considering it is the dominant economic philosophy.
In its survey of 1,004 Americans, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press asked respondents about nine political words and phrases. "Family values" came out on top, drawing positive reactions from 89 percent of respondents, while "militia" elicited the most negative answers, with just 21 percent reacting positively.
"Socialism," two decades beyond the taint left by a collapsed Soviet Union, is still a negative for most Americans but far from all, the study showed. And some segments of the public -- younger Americans and Democrats among them -- favored or opposed "socialism" and "capitalism" in equal measure.
Socialism was viewed positively by 29 percent of respondents as a whole, and found favor with 43 percent of those aged 18 to 29 and 44 percent of Democrats. By contrast, it was deemed positive by just 23 percent of respondents aged 50 to 64 and only 15 percent of Republicans.
A Gallup poll taken earlier this year, asking different questions and offering slightly different response options, found similar support for socialism.
Capitalism drew positive responses from only 52 percent of all Pew respondents, with a positive rating as low as 62 percent even from Republicans, and with 47 percent of Democrats and about half of independents reacting positively to the word.
Among 18- to 29-year-olds, capitalism was viewed positively by 43 percent -- the same as socialism -- and among Americans aged 50 to 64, the poll found 54 percent reacting positively.
This was the first time that Pew sought to gauge Americans' view of key political phrases, making it hard to determine with any precision how much the findings record a trend.
But the snapshot of public opinion they provide seems in sync with a national zeitgeist propelling the congressional creation of tougher rules and supervision for Wall Street following two years of financial upheaval.
"One would think the relatively low mark for capitalism is related to some of the problems of the last few years," said Carroll Doherty, an associate director at Pew, who added that the nonpartisan public-opinion researcher is likely to delve deeper into the issue in the future.
The poll was taken April 21-26, the same week President Barack Obama traveled to New York to tell banking executives and others that U.S. capitalism seemed to have drifted away from the role of channeling Americans' savings to businesses that need the investment. Instead, he argued, "some on Wall Street forgot that behind every dollar traded or leveraged there's a family looking to buy a house, or pay for an education, or open a business, save for retirement."
And it comes less than a month after another Pew survey found that banks and financial institutions suffer the lowest approval rating of any national institution, including Congress, and that a desire for greater regulation of major financial institutions is the only exception to Americans' distaste for increasing government power.