Fraser Forum

New poll finds strong support for socialism in the U.K.

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New poll finds strong support for socialism in the U.K.

According to a new poll, the United Kingdom—the birthplace of Adam Smith and cradle of markets and prosperity—seems to be leading the western world in rejecting markets (i.e. capitalism) in favour of socialism and other alternatives.

The poll (commissioned by the Institute of Economic Affairs and Canada’s Fraser Institute) taken in the fall of 2022 shows that the U.K. has the highest level of support for socialism as the ideal economic system (43 per cent) among the four countries involved in the poll (Australia, the United States, Canada and the U.K). The U.S. has the lowest support for socialism at 31 per cent.

Among younger people (aged 18-34) in the U.K., support for socialism increases to 53 per cent, again higher than in the three other countries. The U.K. also has the lowest level of disagreement regarding socialism as the ideal system, meaning it has the highest net level of support for socialism among younger people.

Worryingly, young people in the U.K. (ages 18-34) also have the highest levels of support for communism (29 per cent) and fascism (19 per cent) among the four countries.

U.K. respondents, regardless of age group, were also the most likely to use the traditional definition of socialism—that is, the government owning the means of production. Specifically, 39 per cent of U.K. respondents defined socialism in this way, which means that a substantial share of the more than one-in-three Britons supporting socialism actually support the government taking control of businesses and industries so politicians and bureaucrats control the economy rather than individuals and entrepreneurs.

Apparently, Britons have forgotten their experience with British Steel, British Gas, British Petroleum, British Telecom, British Aerospace and other failed nationalizations.

Of course, young people in the U.K. who support socialism (and even communism) have never lived in a world with widespread socialism and the misery it created. In fact, 57 per cent of U.K. respondents define socialism as the government providing more services while 55 per cent define socialism as the government guaranteeing a minimum level of income. Both of these percentages are substantially higher than percentage support for the traditional definition of socialism.

But few Britons want to pay higher taxes to finance the more modern-day version of socialism identified in the poll. Indeed, like in the other three countries, Britons by and large want someone else to pay for socialism. Only 37 per cent of U.K. respondents support a broad-based increase in personal income taxes while even less (23 per cent) support a substantial increase in the national Value-Added Tax (VAT). Most respondents likely assume both of these tax increases would affect them.

Conversely, 70 per cent support a new wealth tax on the top 1 per cent while 53 per cent support a narrowly targeted increase in personal income taxes on the top 10 per cent of earners. Neither of these tax options would come close, however, to raising sufficient revenues needed to finance the type of expanded government implied by the definitions of socialism favoured by respondents.

The data from this poll signal that a significant portion of young Britons embrace a form of socialism that entails large-scale increases in government spending, which most Britons are unwilling to pay for themselves. If U.K. citizens want expanded government, the trade-off is much higher taxes. As Nobel laureate Milton Friedman often explained, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, even for those advocating for socialism.

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