Young people have grown up in a world where capitalism has failed them and the War on Terror has replaced the Red Scare.
Despite the fact that Obama is as centrist as they come, the right-wing cries of "socialist takeover!" may be based in more than paranoia. According to a new study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 49 percent of Obama's biggest fans—Millennials age 18 to 29—view socialism in a favorable light, compared to 43 percent who view it unfavorably. (Eight percent had no opinion at all.) What's more, they like the sound of "socialism" slightly better than capitalism—46 percent of people age 18-29 have positive views of capitalism, and 47 percent have negative views. This is dramatically different from the country's population overall: 60 percent say they have a negative view of socialism, versus just 31 percent who say they have a positive view. Young people are the only age group whose support for socialism outweighs that of capitalism.
It's telling that the number of socialism-friendly young people is on the rise from just 20 months ago, when 43 percent of Millennials favored the word. Between now and then, Occupy Wall Street has swept the country and the headlines, and there are more unemployed teens and 20-somethings than ever. It's not hard to figure out why our generation isn't so gung-ho about capitalism—it has disappointed and, in some cases, straight-up failed us.
Of course, this doesn't mean Generation Y is necessarily plotting a socialist revolution. It may also signal that socialism doesn't have the same connotation for us as it does for older people. We're the first generation with a new bogeyman threatening our democracy and our way of life: terrorism. September 11 was our generation's defining apocalyptic moment, not the Bay of Pigs. The War on Terror has gifted us with a whole host of new prejudices, but socialism is not one of them. The Red Scare is a thing of the past.
The most exciting thing about this study is that it offers further proof our current financial system isn't set in stone. According to politicians, the media, and our global reputation, the U.S. is either a bastion of bootstrap capitalism or a rabid free market machine run amok. Yet virtually half of the younger generation has at least a vague desire for a different system. Conservatives may be wrong about Obama's red-tinged politics, but perhaps they're not so wrong about the Obama generation.