Young people want socialism, says new research

By Mike Phipps

Research from the free market Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) confirms younger people are hostile to capitalism and hold positive views of socialist alternatives.

A Forefront Market Research poll commissioned by the IEA of just under 2,000 people aged between 16 and 34 in the UK, carried out between February and March 2021, found that:

  • 67 per cent say they would like to live in a socialist economic system.
  • 75 per cent agree with the assertion that climate change is a specifically capitalist problem.
  • 78 per cent blame capitalism for Britain’s housing crisis.
  • 72 per cent support the (re-)nationalisation of various industries such as energy, water and the railways.
  • 72 per cent believe that private sector involvement would put the NHS at risk.
  • 75 per cent agree with the statement that “socialism is a good idea, but it has failed in the past because it has been badly done”.

It’s not just socialist policies that are popular. Socialist values also trump those of capitalism.

  • 71 per cent agree with the idea that capitalism fuels racism.
  • 73 per cent agree it fuels selfishness, greed and materialism, while a socialist system would promote solidarity, compassion and cooperation.

The research, entitled Left Turn Ahead? was authored by the IEA’s Head of Political Economy Dr Kristian Niemietz. It analyses the economic attitudes of Millennials and Generation Z towards socialism and capitalism.

It finds that young people associate ‘socialism’ predominantly with positive terms, such as ‘workers’, ‘public’, ‘equal’ and ‘fair’. Very few associate it with ‘failure’. Capitalism, meanwhile, is predominantly associated with terms such as ‘exploitative’, ‘unfair’, ‘the rich’ and ‘corporations’.

The report’s summary findings are revealing. Far from young people being politically disengaged or apathetic, “the rise of mass movements such as Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion, the ‘Greta Thunberg movement’ and Momentum, together with the ‘campus culture wars’, have turned perceptions upside down.“ Millennials today are hyper-politicised and their attitudes are increasingly extending to the first cohorts of the subsequent generation, ‘Generation Z’.

Dr Kristian Niemietz says of his report: “These results show that ‘Millennial Socialism’ is not just a  social media hype, and it was not just a passing fad which ended with Jeremy Corbyn’s resignation.  This is a long-term shift in attitudes, which is not going to go away on its own.”

“if these trends continue,” says the report, “then in the future these views will become the mainstream views of the population as a whole.”

To those who say that young people will grow out of these views, Niemietz responds flatly: “This is simply not borne out by the data.”

To reassure the sponsors of the research, however, he concludes: “None of our results mean that supporters of capitalism should throw in the towel, concede defeat in the battle of ideas and just accept that the future belongs to socialism. But it does suggest that they should take ‘Millennial Socialism’ far more seriously than they currently do. They should treat it as a challenge and engage with it, rather than dismiss it or deny it exists.”

Keir Starmer might also want to reflect on these findings.  He badly misread the Black Lives Matter movement, describing it as a “moment” – although he later admitted he regretted his words – prompting singer and prominent Labour activist Jermaine Jackman to retort that Starmer had “never really cared about us or our voice”.

Starmer should also recognise that young socialist-leaning voters are not guaranteed to stick with Labour post-Corbyn. The idea that they are ‘in the bank’ while the Party chases more socially conservative voters by emphasising on patriotic values is already being challenged in the south by a rising vote for the Greens.

Nor will young voters feel encouraged by attempts to retreat from previous manifesto attempts to help renters, scrap tuition fees or commit serious money to a green new deal. The Labour leadership should weigh this report carefully when it considers which voters need to be won over at the next general election.

Mike Phipps is editor of the Iraq Occupation Focus e-newsletter, available at https://lists.riseup.net/www/info/iraqfocusHis book For the Many: Preparing Labour for Power was published by OR Books in 2018.

Image: https://www.thebluediamondgallery.com/handwriting/m/market-research.html. Author: Nick Youngson – link to – http://www.nyphotographic.com/. Attribution: Alpha Stock Images – http://alphastockimages.com/.License: Creative Commons 3 – CC BY-SA 3.0

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