Bernie or Bust? Feelings Towards Socialism at Denison

By Eric Buehler and Lauren Somers

In recent elections socialism has resurged for the Democratic new wave as popular political figures like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez preach for some of the concept’s core political and economic values. While increasing in popularity, socialism is still received negatively by many Americans. This got us thinking, how is this concept viewed by Denison students? Are people more accepting of socialism than the rest of the nation? We decided to use the Denison Fall 2018 survey to answer these questions.

Among the survey respondents, only 12.3% identified as have strong positive feelings towards socialism (feelings greater than or equal to 75), while 30.2% identified has having strong negative feeling towards socialism (feelings less than or equal to 25). Of the 30.9% who identified as feeling cold towards socialism, 44% were Republicans (34 people) and 41% were Democrats. On the other hand, of the 12.3% who identified as having strong positive feelings 84.8% were Democrats and 60% were women. We can visualize these results from the distribution of respondents (above) and note the right skew. It would appear based on these numbers that those who favor socialism at Denison are not that different from the national numbers, which may defy expectations to some.

Many people would expect that students on a liberal arts campus are more likely to favor socialism because they exhibit the signs of a “snowflake.” This term is popularly used in political media specifically and is used to describe usually young liberals who disagree with traditional conservative values. The naive expectation for us while looking at our survey results, was that students would live up to this stereotype and stray towards positive feelings on socialism. After looking at the results, however, this isn’t the story.

Like almost everything in the US these days, the parties have polarized on socialism. Although our party system incentivizes only two major party options, people do not need to affiliate with them and our survey question gave the option for a range of attachments. Looking at the comparison below, we can see that the data is skewed to the right, showing that Democrats, on average, feel lukewarm (net positive) toward socialism while Republicans feel much cooler toward socialism, with strong Republicans averaging just 2 degrees.

This becomes even more interesting when you look at feelings towards capitalism. Capitalism is one of the defining factors of American economic and political thought and also a term that most people have a hard time defining. While many Americans will preach capitalism as the best way, it was expected that students of a liberal arts school would be more critical than that. The pattern of feelings toward capitalism is almost perfectly inverse of the feelings toward socialism, though on average much more positive. Democrats reported the lowest feelings toward capitalism while Republicans are very warm toward it.

Now that we see that party ties can really have an effect on the way that people view concepts like socialism and capitalism, I think it warrants some attention to how this might change when we throw gender into the mix. We have seen in the past that at Denison there isn’t a huge gender gap in things like participation and deliberation, and men and women do have different personality traits. When it comes to feelings towards concepts like socialism and capitalism, though, we find a significant gap.

Looking below you can see that men and women are significantly different in their feeling towards socialism. Republican women feel significantly warmer towards socialism than Republican men, which may be tied to different views of the importance of equality. That turns out to have some support – once we account for different levels of social dominance orientation (which combines a preference for hierarchy and the importance of pursuing equality), then there is no difference between men and women in their views of socialism.

If we check for socialism we have to do the same for capitalism and here we find that the there is gender gap that grows even larger among Republicans — Republican men and women profoundly disagree on capitalism. And again, some of that difference can be accounted for by their preferences for equality and hierarchy. Since men are more comfortable with hierarchy, they are more likely to support capitalism and oppose socialism.

Democracy itself is caught between the contradictory ideals of freedom and equality as well, so it is worth seeing how views toward socialism are linked to support for democracy. Looking at the figure below, we see that one can find respondents who like and dislike democracy, but the average level of support is high and independent of views toward socialism. That is, women and men perceived socialism as compatible with democracy.

So what does this say about our initial inquiry? Are Denison students more accepting of socialism? Well, as always, it depends. While Denison students are cool toward socialism overall (average 41 degrees – close to the national average), Denisonian Democrats were far more favorable towards socialism than Denison Republicans. It was the reverse for capitalism with Republicans strongly favoring the idea while Democrats did not. However, partisanship hides quite significant gender differences and perhaps helps us understand why the gender gap in the 2018 election was so high. Educated women express stronger preferences toward equality, which the Republican Party has not been interested in pursuing. Although people have differing opinions on the economic values of socialism, they seem to feel uniformly positive towards democracy, showing that although some people lean toward socialist values, we aren’t quite on board for the full socialist regime change…yet!

Eric Buehler is one of those Data Analytics students who hopes to be employed one day. In the meantime, you can find him writing about student behavior at Denison.

Lauren Somers is a wannabe fitness guru who loves shows about murder and vampire slayers. When she is not huddled in her room napping she can be found in the Knapp lab analyzing endless data and eating pita chips.

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