Attitude formation towards socialism: A study of undergraduate student’s

Open Access
Bush, Meredith Nicole
Area of Honors:
Interdisciplinary in Political Science and Psychology
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Matthew Woessner, Thesis Supervisor
  • Gina Brelsford, Honors Advisor
  • Ronald Walker, Honors Advisor
  • Juliette Tolay, Faculty Reader
  • Attitude formation
  • socialism
  • knowledge
  • attitudes
  • media
America has not produced a socialist movement akin to the one predicted by Karl Marx for the most industrially advanced country. Scholars have attempted to explain the lack of support for socialism (Sombart, 1976; Lowi, 1985; Lipset, 1996) and public opinion polls have shown consistent opposition to socialism (The Psychological Corporation, 1946, 1947, 1948; Pew Research Center, 2011). However, little scientific research is dedicated to explaining the formation of this negative public opinion. This study is designed to explore this issue by applying Zaller’s (1992) Receive-Accept-Sample (RAS) model of attitude formation. The model predicts that a lack of knowledge about socialism and a negative elite discourse towards the concept contribute to a heightened negative attitude. The following study examines this premise through a survey of traditional underclassmen attending Penn State Harrisburg. The survey consisted of three main sections: a test of political knowledge and socialist policies, a selection of a commonly used media sources and a demographics section. Data were analyzed using several multiple regression models. Results revealed that undergraduate students have a lack of knowledge about socialism and mostly neutral opinions towards the concept. The multiple regression models supported hypotheses that suggested that lack of knowledge about socialism strongly correlates with negative attitudes about socialism irrespective of one’s political affiliation. General political knowledge and media biases were not quite significant though it appears they may still influence opinions. Alternative measures for media bias should be researched before conclusive results can be determined. This research assists in understanding how political attitudes may form in college students and explain why negative attitudes towards socialism are prevalent in America.