Sanders Speech Highlights Generational Divide Over Socialism

Nov 19, 2015
Originally published on November 20, 2015 1:42 am
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Socialism can mean different things to different people, and as NPR's Sam Sanders reports, that perception depends a lot on your age.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: When you hear the word socialist or socialism, what's the first thing that comes to your mind?

JULIUS CHASE-BARNUM: I honestly don't know what that means.

SANDERS: That's Julius Chase-Barnum. I asked him and a lot of other students that same question recently at George Mason University, and I only got that answer once. Most of the time, I heard this.

MARINA VIANELLO: I think of people, like, working towards the common good.

JOSEPHINE NEULEN: Attempt equality for everyone, like, redistribution of wealth.

SANDERS: Would you ever vote for a socialist?

NEULEN: I think I would, yeah.

SANDERS: That was Marina Vianello and Josephine Neulen. The data backs them up. Young people in America, as a group, they're more likely to support socialism than the general population.

KEI KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: When you even compare the young people to older people, as in 65 and older folks, the difference is much bigger.

SANDERS: Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg is a researcher at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.

KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: Young people supported socialism by 39 percent, and for seniors that number was 15 percent.

SANDERS: That's according to a recent poll from YouGov, a market research firm. She says there are two big reasons for this. Reason one...

KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: Older millennials that graduated from college or got into the workforce in the late-2000s really had a hard time believing in the idea of American Dreams and capitalism.

SANDERS: Young people - and not just college graduates - they're doing worse than their parents on several measures. They earn less, they have more student loan debt and they're less able to buy a house. Reason two - perception.

KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: When people think about socialism or hear that term, the first thing they think of is of Scandinavian countries.

SANDERS: With free college and free health care.

KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: Whereas older generation, you know, thought straight to Soviet Union, where things were really tough and, you know, the idea of socialism really wasn't at all about raising the bottom.

SANDERS: Think people waiting in bread lines. Kawashima-Ginsberg says young people will most likely become more conservative. And several students at George Mason, like Marina Vianello, Jamie Dresser and Taylor Pasqual, they agreed.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I just feel like I haven't been on Earth long enough to really know what socialism, like, is in its entirety.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I also haven't had a job or had to raise a family.

SANDERS: So you think you might evolve on that issue as you grow older?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I don't think even grow older, I think mature more. Like, I don't think it's as much age but, like, experience more.

SANDERS: Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.