Peter Beinart wrote an article for the Daily Beast heralding Bill de Blasio's victory in the New York Democratic mayoral primary as the "rise of the new new left." It describes Americans aged 18 to 30 as "Millennials" and claims, "unlike older Americans, who favor capitalism over socialism by roughly 25 points, Millennials, narrowly, favor socialism."
The Beinart article has attracted a lot of attention. Paul Krugman mentioned it and linked to it in his New York Times column. Ezra Klein, who writes for the Washington Post and Bloomberg, tweeted a link to it, as did The New Republic magazine's Jonathan Cohn.
Mr. Beinart helpfully provided a hyperlink to the Pew Poll purporting to show that Millennials "favor socialism." In fact the poll shows nothing of the sort. The poll didn't ask, "If you had to choose between capitalism and socialism, which system would you choose?" Instead, it asked, "do you have a positive or a negative reaction to the word..." The survey found that of the 18 to 29 year olds, 46% had a positive reaction to capitalism and 47% had a negative reaction. Socialism got a 49% positive reaction and a 43% negative reaction for the same age group. In the same survey, the word "libertarian" got a 50% positive, 28% negative reaction. The survey asked only about capitalism, not "free enterprise" or other more friendly-sounding descriptions of capitalism.
But here's the kicker — the margin of sampling error for the entire poll is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, while for smaller subgroups, such as independents, Republicans, or Democrats, the margin of sampling error is between 5 and 6.5 percentage points. The poll doesn't provide the margin of sampling error for Millennials, saying only that it is "available upon request." I put a request in this morning by calling Pew; I am still waiting to hear back. But I bet it is even larger than 6.5 percentage points; in other words, that difference between the 46 percent who are positive toward capitalism and the 49 percent who are positive toward socialism is statistically insignificant. That's why, in its own narrative of the poll's findings, Pew steers clear of Mr. Beinart's language about favoring socialism and states instead, "People under 30 are divided in their views of both capitalism and socialism."
Update: I did hear back this afternoon from the director of survey research at Pew, Scott Keeter, who said the survey at issue interviewed 223 respondents who were between 18 and 29, and that the margin of sampling error for that subgroup was 7.6 percentage points. As for the difference between how the members of the subgroup viewed socialism and capitalism, "That difference is not statistically significant," he said. "That's why we described the age group as being divided on the question."