Socialism in the U.S. appears to be in a formative stage. For most Americans, the idea is fairly new, and many have yet to take a firm stand on policies such as income redistribution and government control of industries.

Yet, we've come a long way in just seven months. Last August, only 25% of Americans surveyed in our IBD/TIPP Poll agreed with the statement, "The U.S. is evolving into a socialist state." But when asked again this month, the number jumped to 39%.

This included leaps to 63% from 35% for Republicans and to 47% from 23% for Independents. Only 13% of Democrats, on the other hand, agreed with the statement vs. 20% in August.

The numbers mark a rather significant shift and merit further analysis. But rather than welcome a healthy discussion, many in the media bridle when the "S" word is brought up.

Recall the scorn heaped on Joe the Plumber during last fall's campaign, when he said Barack Obama's tax plan to spread the wealth "scares me because it's just one more step towards socialism." Or the attacks on the professionalism of Florida TV newswoman Barbara West when she asked Joe Biden if Obama might lead the U.S. "into a socialist country much like Sweden."

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We even experienced it ourselves. A writer for Salon.com, for instance, accused us of bias in our August presidential tracking poll simply because we dared to run a few questions about socialism.

issues0104032609Still, it's important to understand the American mindset. And to get at hidden segments that underlie our survey data, March's IBD/TIPP Poll asked Americans a few relevant questions tapping into their level of agreement to the statements below:

  • I believe the government should control or own key industries such as health care and energy.
  • Generally, I support the idea of a government-run universal health care system.
  • I believe it is the government's role to redistribute wealth and income.
  • The U.S. is evolving into a socialist state.

Based on responses to these questions, we developed a statistical model that reveals three latent segments of the American populace: Undeclared Socialists, Passionate Capitalists and Hybrid Deniers.

Undeclared Socialists are the smallest segment, with 29%, while Passionate Capitalists encompass 37% of Americans. Hybrid Deniers fall in between at 35%. The segments cross traditional party lines and political ideologies. Here are the differences:

Undeclared Socialists see the government in a very positive light. They believe it's the government's role to redistribute wealth and income, and they support government-run health care. They are the most willing to pay higher taxes to fund social programs.

While they lean toward socialistic tenets, we call them "undeclared" because the majority don't believe the U.S. is evolving into a socialist state. Demographic groups most represented are blacks and Hispanics (55%), liberals (43%) and moderates (41%).

Passionate Capitalists strongly oppose the redistribution of wealth and income and believe the government should stay out of key industries. They're also against universal health care, oppose higher taxes for more social programs and are sure the U.S. is evolving into a socialist state.

Two-thirds of Republicans (65%), most conservatives (57%) and a quarter of moderates (23%) fall into this segment.

Hybrid Deniers base their views on capitalistic tenets, but may be skeptical. Their thinking is "hybrid" in that they oppose the redistribution of income but are on the fence about government-run health care (with 38% giving a neutral rating).

They are "deniers" because they refute the notion the U.S. may be evolving into a socialist state. They are generally not willing to pay higher taxes to support more social programs. Most liberals (52%), nearly half (49%) of Democrats, a third whites (35%) and a similar share of blacks and Hispanics (33%) belong to this segment.

In the future, we'll look closer at whether socialism is taking root so we'll have a better handle on the nation's direction.

Mayur is president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which directs the IBD/TIPP Poll that was the most accurate in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.

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