I’m old enough to remember back when Bernie Sanders was running for the Democratic nomination (no… I mean last time) and people were taking to the fainting couches after learning he was a self-identified socialist. True, he said “Democratic socialist” but a rose by any other name, as the saying goes. There were plenty in his own party who were sort of edging sideways away from him. After all, you don’t want to have that tag hung on you even by association.
But here we are, not even four years later, and Bernie is struggling to set himself apart from the pack. These days, it seems as if you can’t go to a state Democratic convention or fundraiser and swing a dead cat without hitting at least a few proud socialists. From some of the freshmen in Congress to the rest of the pack of nomination hopefuls, Democrats are either declaring themselves socialists or at least openly embracing socialist values and platforms. But how about the Democratic voters around the country? Are they buying it? It seems they are. According to the most recent Pew Research survey, socialism is spreading in the Democratic Party like acne on a fourteen-year-old’s face.
Republicans express intensely negative views of “socialism” and highly positive views of “capitalism.”
By contrast, majorities of Democrats view both terms positively, though only modest shares have strong impressions of each term.
Overall, a much larger share of Americans have a positive impression of capitalism (65%) than socialism (42%), according to a new survey by Pew Research Center.
So here’s the breakdown across party lines. When it comes to socialism, 65% of Dems and Dem-leaners have a favorable view, with 14% holding a “very positive” view. As for Republicans and their leaners, 15% see it positively and 85% view it negatively, with 63% saying “very negative.”
On the flip side of the coin, capitalism does far better. 78% of Republicans view capitalism favorably and only 20% look down on it. Even among Democrats and their leaners, capitalism gets a thumbs up with a 55/44 split. (Insert record scratch sound effect here.)
Wait a minute. If 65% of Democrats have a positive view of socialism, how the heck can 55% have a positive view of capitalism. How does that work? Pew digs into it further and finds that nearly a quarter of respondents expressed a positive view of both capitalism and socialism. These were nearly all Democrats and primarily younger ones.
Does anyone want to tell them or would that ruin the comedic value? Socialism and capitalism are specifically antithetical to each other. Democracy requires capitalism to thrive. Likewise, capitalism only flourishes under democracy, except in very limited circumstances like the warped and brutal “capitalism” found in China.
Conversely, the fundamental tenets of socialism exist to thwart capitalism. Individual achievement and the accrual of wealth are not only frowned upon but punished in the interest of redistribution. Capitalism and democracy operate under the basic principle of equality of opportunity. Socialism demands equality of outcome and generally winds up enforcing that mandate at the end of a bayonet if the people get too uppity. (See Venezuela 2019 for examples.)
So we have a lot of Democrats tossing around “the S word” during this election cycle. Perhaps it’s just become trendy in the right social media neighborhoods. But based on the most recent data, a fair portion of them don’t seem to even know what the word means.