Poll: 49% of Democrats say U.S. economy should be a "mostly socialist" one

Don’t worry, I’m sure we can scrape together $93 trillion.

Secretary-General Ocasio-Cortez will find a way.

Most registered voters in the Harvard/CAPS/Harris poll – 65 percent – said that they believe that the U.S. economy should be built around a “mostly capitalist” system, compared to 35 percent who want a “mostly socialist” system…

Fifty-six percent of registered voters between the ages of 18 and 24 favored a “mostly socialist” economic model, while 48 percent of voters between the ages of 25 and 34 said the same…

As a whole, Democratic voters are largely split on the issue of capitalism and socialism. Fifty-one percent said they favor a “mostly capitalist” economy, while 49 percent said that the U.S. economy should be a “mostly socialist” one.

The standard critique of polls like this one is that “socialism” means different things to different people, from dogmatic Marxism to Maduro’s Venezuela to Scandinavian welfare states to FDR’s New Deal. Righties have helped extend the definition by throwing the word “socialist” at some of Obama’s policies, leading younger, dimmer liberals with no memory of the USSR to conceivably equate “socialism” with neoliberalism. It’s possible to support softer forms of socialism while loathing the purer forms too: Ben Shapiro notes that some of those same Scandinavian countries fought to remain free of Soviet control and that the former PM of Sweden — a model socialist state to many progressives — took to Twitter a few days ago to slam Bernie Sanders for being a Soviet stooge.

The nice thing about the coming Democratic primary is that we’re going to get some national clarity on what Democrats mean when they say “socialism.” Bernie embraces the term; Kamala Harris rejects it. Elizabeth Warren cautiously calls herself a capitalist, although you get the sense that’s more a matter of positioning for the primary and beyond than a matter of deep conviction. They’re going to have to hash this out at the debates and elsewhere. Given Sanders’s name recognition and popularity among young progressives, it’s possible that he ends up as one of the final two or three left standing and suddenly the differences between mainstream Democratic ideology and “democratic socialism” become spotlit the rest of the way. There won’t be much difference policy-wise between them, if only because the non-socialist candidate will need to stay on the good side of Bernie’s voters. But there will be some ideological differences offered to explain the distinction in how they self-identify. Candidates need to distinguish themselves, right? Well, then, what makes Bernie different?

I agree with Shapiro that polls like this shouldn’t be taken too seriously absent a definition of “socialism” but I also don’t think the case against Sanders rests on the belief that he wants to institute a Soviet-style system. The fear with progressive government is that it only moves in one direction to address its problems. It can start small but it will only get worse. The argument made repeatedly during the ObamaCare wars was that, even though the plan relies on private industry to expand health coverage, it deepens the role of government in health insurance and will create new challenges which the left inevitably will insist can only be addressed through a more statist system like single-payer. It didn’t take even 10 years for that prediction to bear out; Medicare for All, Sanders’s plan, is now basically obligatory for Democratic hopefuls to support.

Ocasio-Cortez may not dream of a true socialist society but she’s en route by proposing a massively ambitious government intervention that will demand ever deeper interventions over time to address its shortcomings. Maybe the Scandinavians can be trusted to resist their worst impulses towards more intrusive government in the name of striking a balance between private industry and public initiatives but I don’t remotely trust American progressives to do the same and don’t understand why anyone would. AOC and like-minded leftists will never reach a point in government’s expansion where they think, “Well, that’s too far.” That being so, any step towards even a softer model of socialism is existentially dangerous long-term.