‘Capitalism’ Not So Sacred to Americans as Mood Sours

Capitalism, the bedrock of the U.S. economic system, isn’t a favorite term these days among American citizens, opinion surveys show.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a poll today showing that 57 percent of Americans say they support capitalism, compared with more than 70 percent who back free enterprise and free markets. Polls by the Gallup Organization and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press earlier this year found similar lower levels of enthusiasm for the term.

“There’s been an erosion of support for capitalism,” Steve Lombardo, president of the Lombardo Consulting Group, which conducted the poll for the Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview. “It hasn’t become a bad word, but it’s less positive than it has been.”

The Chamber’s poll found 20 percent of those polled were neutral toward capitalism and 19 percent held negative views.

For the Chamber, corporate America’s biggest lobbying force in Washington, that lack of support is a cause for worry, said Stan Anderson, managing director of its Campaign for Free Enterprise.

“We need to do a better job of explaining the economic system in the United States and how it is working,” Anderson said in an interview. “We have been looking at anecdotal information that there was a misunderstanding of capitalism.”

‘Big Business, Big Government’

Anderson said Americans’ support for the term “free enterprise,” which was viewed positively by 78 percent of the respondents, may show that they just oppose any “-isms.”

Charles Derber, a sociologist at Boston College, says the results show the public’s unhappiness with the ties between “big business and big government,” exemplified by the multi-billion dollar bailout of banks in 2008.

“When people say they are down on capitalism, they mean they are down on corporate capitalism,” Derber, author of books including, “People Before Profit,” said in an interview. “They see capitalism as it exists here as anything but a free market.”

‘Corporate Excesses’

A Gallup poll in April found that 52 percent of those surveyed had a positive assessment of capitalism and 37 percent a negative view. Socialism had a 29 percent positive assessment.

“Reaction to ‘capitalism’ is lukewarm among many demographic groups,” Gallup editor Frank Newport wrote May 4. “Fewer than half of young people, women, people with lower incomes and those with less education react positively” to the term, he wrote.

“It is a reasonable hypothesis that in the midst of the current downturn and the visibility of the corporate excesses that negative assessments of capitalism have increased,” Newport said today in an interview. Gallup hadn’t polled about the term before, he said.

In addition to the findings on capitalism, the Chamber’s poll found that 43 percent of those surveyed said the Obama administration’s policies are making the economy worse compared with 23 percent believing it is making it better.

“There is a major trust deficit,” Lombardo said.

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