Democrats view socialism more positively than capitalism.
That’s the finding of a new Gallup Poll that showed that 57% of Democrats (and Democratic leaning voters) have a positive view of socialism, while just 47% of Democrats (and Democratic leaners) have a positive view of capitalism. That’s the first time in the last decade of Gallup data – they’ve asked the question a total of four times – that socialism has passed capitalism in the eyes of Democrats. (Republicans are less sanguine about socialism, with just 16% holding a positive view of it while 71% have a favorable opinion of capitalism.)
Numbers like that come as a strain of socialism grows stronger within the Democratic Party – as evidenced by Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly strong showing in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary process and the stunning upset of Rep. Joe Crowley, D-New York, by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Both Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders refer to themselves as democratic socialists.
“Democrats are a big tent party,” Ocasio Cortez told NBC’s Chuck Todd earlier this summer when asked about her alignment with socialism. “I’m not trying to impose an ideology on all several hundred members of Congress. But I do think that once again it’s not about selling an ism, or an ideology, or a label or a color, it’s about selling our values.”
The problem for Democrats seeking to retake the White House in 2020 is that President Donald Trump is already gearing up to use the victories of Ocasio-Cortez and others like her inspired by Sanders’ 2016 campaign as a way to paint the party as deeply out of touch with the average American. Polls like this one will only embolden Trump and his supporters to make the case that if Democrats win in 2020 they will move to abolish ICE, institute single-payer health insurance and bust the budget.
Even before Democrats get to that point, however, they need to negotiate their own internal politics as to whether Ocasio-Cortez and her ilk represent the future of the Democratic Party or simply a small rump group that should not be taken as a signal of much of anything about where the party is headed.
California Rep. Maxine Waters, certainly never mistaken for a moderate, puts herself squarely in the latter camp. “The Democratic Party is not a socialist party,” she told CNBC’s John Harwood last month. “I just don’t think our party should be identified because we have a few people who seem to be to the left of the left.”
The Gallup data suggests that Waters may be on the wrong side of that argument, however. A majority (51%) of Americans aged 18-29 have a positive view of socialism while 45% have a positive view of capitalism. While Gallup didn’t provide party breakdowns on that question, you can assume that young Democrats are likely to have even more positive views of socialism than that 51%.
This is the fight that the 2020 Democratic primary will sort out. Is Sanders the future of the Democratic Party? Or is Joe Biden? Is it a party that needs to embrace some socialist strains to appeal to its base or to reject them outright for fear of how consorting with socialist principles might look to the general election voter?
The Point: No matter who Democrats nominate, Trump will seek to use Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez as faces of a party that would rather see socialism than capitalism as the governing economic philosophy of the country. The question is whether Democrats run from or embrace that caricature.