This comes from Rasmussen Reports which, as polling firms go, tends to be woefully inadequate and partisan (to the right). But it is still astonishing.
Now, this survey doesn't mean that 47% of Americans think socialism is better.
The question was quite simply: "Which is a better system – capitalism or socialism?"
27% Not sure
Here's the party breakdown:
Republicans – by an 11-to-1 margin – favor capitalism. Democrats are much more closely divided: Just 39% say capitalism is better while 30% prefer socialism. As for those not affiliated with either major political party, 48% say capitalism is best, and 21% opt for socialism.
Age also plays a factor:
Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided. Thirty-somethings are a bit more supportive of the free-enterprise approach with 49% for capitalism and 26% for socialism. Adults over 40 strongly favor capitalism, and just 13% of those older Americans believe socialism is better.
No doubt, the right wing will take this and run with it.
But I'm not sure the poll tells us very much.
First of all, I don't think Americans have a complete understanding of what "capitalism" and "socialism" mean. They certainly don't have a unified understanding about what those terms mean in this context.
I like capitalism, but I don't favor, say, unbridled capitalism. I like a government-managed economy. After all, capitalism brought about slavery, child labor, etc. Is a government-managed free market economy "capitalist" or "socialist"?
And socialism? Certainly our public education system is socialist (we don't have schools compete in the free market). On the other hand, our medical system is capitalist, but should be socialist (i.e., socialized medicine)
Which leads to my second criticism of the poll: the either-or nature of the question renders it virtually meaningless.
So the results are surprising, but I'm not sure the poll actually tells us anything. As Steve Benen writes:
Perhaps "capitalism" lost some of its appeal when our economy collapsed. Maybe a lot of people heard the media connect Obama and "socialism," and since they like the president, they figure socialism can't be that bad. In a similar vein, if right-wing blowhards like Limbaugh keep screaming that socialism is manifestly evil, there may be some who assume the economic model must have merit.
Perhaps. Perhaps not. Which is why the poll tends to shed more light than heat.