Recent polling appears to show that “socialism” does not carry quite the stigma that it did a generation ago. In fact, for Democratic primary candidates, it could be a plus. A 2018 poll by Gallup shows that 57 percent of Democrats have a positive view of socialism. A Pew poll from June, 2019 shows Millenials split almost 50-50 on approval of socialism vs. capitalism.
But those polls may be misleading. An interesting survey conducted by the American Action Network gave some nuance to the question and came up with some surprising results.
The AAN had the Tarrance Group poll 1,000 people in 30 congressional districts. To some, it posed questions with about a policy such as the Green New Deal and labeled it as socialist, while in other cases the socialist label was absent. It made a difference.
“Highlighting the liberal view as ‘socialist’ creates +10 points of net movement toward the conservative view and away from the liberal view in a split sample,” the Tarrance Group pollsters said.
Much of that was Democrats souring on proposals when they were labeled socialist.
Socialism in the abstract appears far more desirable than the reality of it. In terms of practical politics, it may be easier for GOP candidates to tie the label “socialist” to Democrats by identifying certain policies as “socialist.”
Further, the wide disparity between Republicans and Democrats on having a positive view of “socialism” makes it easier to use the issue as a wedge. This will almost certainly aid Trump in his re-election bid, as Democrats have left themselves wide open on the issue because high-profile personalities like AOC and Bernie Sanders identify as “socialists.”
A poll conducted by Axios highlights the Democrats’ dilemma.
Three months prior to Ocasio-Cortez’s declaration, a Harris Poll provided exclusively to Axiosshowed that 61% of Americans ages 18 to 24 have a positive reaction to the word “socialism,” while 58% responded similarly to the word “capitalism.” Conversely, only 27% of people age 65 and older had a positive reaction to the word that most of them still associate with the Red Scare.
In response to this trend, economists Robert Lawson and Benjamin Powell recently discussed their new book, “Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World,” at the Cato Institute. Powell said it’s not surprising that socialism is popular now in the United States, though he added that this favorability comes from an illusion.
Much of America’s youth, Powell continued, has been led into a state of confusion by Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has repeatedly cited Nordic countries as examples of socialism. “When you hear Bernie and others say this, they don’t mean real socialism in the way that Bob and I defined the term of the government owning most of the means of production,” Powell said. “However, Bernie and AOC and the rest of them do want to march you down the road of serfdom … moving to Medicare for All.”
After visiting Sweden, Lawson and Powell concluded that it’s more capitalist than socialist. They continued on their exploration to Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, China, Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia – all places where socialism does or has existed to varying degrees. Finally, Lawson and Powell made their way back to a convention in Chicago for “the largest gathering of American socialists” on the weekend of Independence Day.
“Real” socialists despise Bernie Sanders and AOC. They disparagingly refer to their views as “socialism-lite.” Indeed, neither Sanders nor Ocasio-Cortez appears to embrace the classical definition of “socialism,” where government controls not just the means of production, but capital as well. They appear to accept capitalism’s advantages in creating wealth, but seek to use the power of government to “redirect” wealth into social services.
They don’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. They only want to pluck its feathers and gut it.
The label “socialist” may not be as poisonous as it once was, but Trump and the Republicans have a glorious opportunity. Millennials may have a more positive attitude toward “socialism,” but they don’t vote in near the numbers of Americans over the age of 55. A candidate who can paint a dire picture of America under socialism — and connect their Democratic opponent to radicals in their party — stands a much better chance of winning in November 2020.