The gap between what Americans think of Sanders and what they say they think of socialism is not new. In one Monmouth University poll released in 2019, 57 percent said that socialism is “incompatible with American values.” Americans love Sanders, they hate socialism; when forced to reconcile this contradiction, their hate will win out. Or so goes the “pragmatic” anti-Sanders case, the alleged rationale for Michael Bloomberg’s campaign, and more broadly, the case for Democrats to embrace any one of the moderate candidates in the race.
But self-appointed electability experts overstate their case. We do not live in the Cold War era, and post-recession, socialism isn’t quite the no-go zone it used to be. The public’s views are changing. Although this doesn’t erase the gap as a potential risk to the viability of the Sanders campaign, it does suggest Sanders can afford to run as a socialist.
Gallup has been measuring American attitudes toward socialism for decades, and their research is useful here. America might not be ready for a socialist revolution, but public attitudes toward the ideology have warmed over time: Americans in 2018 were almost twice as likely as Americans in 1943 to say that socialism means equality, defined as “equal standing for everybody, all equal in rights, equal in distribution.”