New Survey Finds Little Enthusiasm for Free Market Capitalism

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

A new Financial Times/Harris Poll in the United States and the five largest European countries does not make for cheerful reading. A broad overview of the results suggest that there is little enthusiasm for free-market capitalism and that the prospect of some “third way” (a hot topic in the early days of Tony Blair’s Labor government)—if only someone could define it clearly—would appeal to many people in the largest Western democracies. While the mood and attitudes vary from country to country, the data suggest that free-market capitalism (or socialism) and globalization do not have broad appeal.

The  survey was conducted online among a total of 6,473 adults within France, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, and the United States between September 6 and 17, 2007.

Attitudes toward Free-Market Capitalism
Less than 50% of adults in all six countries say that a “free-market capitalist economy” is the “best economic system.” However, in three countries, almost half believe it is: the United States (49%), Spain (49%) and Germany (48%).

Further evidence that the so-called “Anglo-American” or “Anglo-Saxon” economic model does not have widespread appeal is that only relatively small minorities of the people in the European countries surveyed (except for a larger 38% in Italy) think that “Europe’s economy should be more like that of the United States.”

One of the constraints on free-market capitalism is the power of trade unions. Most people in Britain, Spain, and Germany believe that trade unions “have an important role in today’s work environment,” a view shared by over 40% in the U.S., Italy, and France. It is noteworthy that support for trade unions is weakest (but still strong) in France and Italy, where unions probably have more power than in the other four countries.

Attitudes on Multinational Companies
Most people surveyed doubt the power of national government to control multinational companies. In the five European countries, less than 20% of the public think their governments have more power than multinationals. Even in the U.S., only 30% believe this.

Economic Optimism and Pessimism
Only rather small minorities (from 13% in Italy to 36% in Germany) of the public are optimistic about the future of their own country’s economics. And, only minorities (from 18% in Britain to 36% in Germany) are optimistic about the future of the “European economy as a whole."  Pessimism about their own countries’ economies is highest in Italy (69%), France (58%), and Spain(47%) and lowest in Britain (31%) and Germany (33%). In each country there are more economic pessimists than optimists, including the U.S. (36% compared to 29%).

However, and perhaps paradoxically, more people in each of the six countries believe that the European business environment for companies based in their own countries is good rather than bad. However, substantial majorities (from 60% in Britain to 75% in Spain) are not confident that the European Central Bank (ECB) fulfills its primary roles controlling inflation and promoting economic growth.

Competing with Asia
One reason for economic pessimism in Europe is that only minorities of the public (from 25% in Britain and France to 42% in Spain and 44% in Germany) believe that “European economics can compete effectively” against Asian countries such as China and India.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and postsurvey weighting and adjustments. Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult populations of the respective countries. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

More information about Harris Interactive may be obtained at