Socialism has gone “mainstream” and is now supported by the majority of Americans, Sen. Bernard Sanders asserted this week, saying Democrats should embrace rather than shun the term as they campaign to win control of Congress.
Mr. Sanders was responding to television comic Stephen Colbert, who had suggested left-wing candidates could do better in Democratic primaries if they would cool it with the S-word, which he said carries a “taint” in voters’ minds.
The Vermont independent, who won the Democratic primary for another term Tuesday, said Mr. Colbert is missing the massive shift among Americans who are ready for a new economic deal.
“The ideas that we have been talking about, almost without exception, Stephen, are now ideas that are mainstream ideas that are supported by the vast majority of American people,” Mr. Sanders said.
He’s an avowed democratic socialist. So is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has become a darling of cable news after she unseated 20-year incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in a primary earlier this year.
The attention to their agenda of tuition-free college, government-sponsored health care for all, and a tax system that redistributes from the wealthy to the poor has convinced them socialism can win at the ballot box.
A Gallup poll this week suggests voters haven’t yet made the switch — though Democrats are inching in his direction.
While voters overall remain more enamored of capitalism than socialism, for Democrats it’s reversed. Just 47 percent of them view capitalism positively, while 57 percent say socialism sounds good.
GOP pollster Jim McLaughlin says the longer Democrats debate socialism, the better it is for Republicans.
“I think it’s a great way to get Republicans energized and give them a real reason to come out during the midterm elections,” he said. “It’s literally that the Democrats have come out of the closet on it. Republicans and many conservatives have suspected it years.”
He said it’s telling that the Democrats who are pushing the socialist narrative, such as Mr. Sanders and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, are running in races where there’s little chance a Republican will defeat them. Even then, he said, they’re not willing to fully embrace the term.
“They don’t even say, ‘Yeah, I’m a socialist,’ they say, ‘I’m a democratic socialist,’ like it’s something different than what socialism is,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
The Gallup poll used a definition of government control and ownership of corporations.
Mr. Sanders and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez usually define it by the platforms and projects it represents, like Medicare for all or tuition-free public college.
“When we, for example, decided to take the affirmative and bold step into building an interstate highway system, into electrifying this country, into providing tuition-free public K-12 education, those are not capitalist things,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said in a recent appearance on the podcast “Pod Save America.”
The Democratic Socialists of America, meanwhile, defines itself in opposition to the problems it sees in the country: “We are socialists because we reject an international economic order sustained by private profit, alienated labor, race and gender discrimination, environmental destruction, and brutality and violence in defense of the status quo.”
Gallup said Democrats’ affinity for socialism isn’t new — but what is new is their antipathy toward capitalism, which has surged over the last couple years.
The pollsters wondered whether President Trump has tarnished capitalism itself. Yet Gallup said for candidates, going socialist is still fraught with electoral peril.
“Although a majority — even if not an overwhelming one — of Democrats nationwide react positively to the word ‘socialism,’ the strong antipathy toward socialism among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents suggests a political campaign favorable to socialism would not play well in a general election,” the pollsters concluded.
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