Are the Democrats increasingly becoming just a bunch of socialists?

I don’t believe so, although the term ‘socialism’ (like capitalism) is so vague that I find it almost meaningless.

But public opinion polls suggest that Democrats are becoming more socialist.

And, by the way, Sanders’s self-identification as a “socialist” no longer marks him as extreme, at least to Democrats. Forty-three percent of Democrats say they approve of socialism, the same percentage who like capitalism. The public, to say the least, does not agree: By a margin of two to one, they preferred capitalism to socialism in a May YouGov poll.

So why don’t I think the Dems are becoming a bunch of socialists?  Because I don’t believe public opinion polls measure public opinion.  Indeed I don’t think public opinion exists in the sense that most people think it exists.  I doubt that as much as 43% of the American public even knows what terms like “socialism”, “inflation”, “NGDP growth”, “unemployment”, “quantitative easing”, and “the Fed” mean.  If the GOP insists that Obamacare is socialism, is it any surprise that Dems increasingly call themselves socialist?

Now of course many people disagree with me.  But here’s something for progressives to think about.  Suppose you hear Rush Limbaugh complaining that the Democrats are increasingly dominated by socialists.  Your first reaction might be to accuse him of McCarthyism, or red-baiting.  But would that be fair, at least is it fair if you actually believe in public opinion polls?  Would it be fair to argue that Limbaugh is a red-baiter and at the same time argue that, “polls show the public supports a higher minimum wage.”  I guarantee I could design a poll question that shows the public prefers a higher EITC to a higher minimum wage rate.  It’s all in the framing effects.

You need to take the sweet with the sour.  Either polls are believable or they aren’t. If you insist on giving credence to polls of public opinion, then you need to start calling the Dems a bunch of socialists.

PS.  Just to be clear, I believe polls on voting intentions are much more accurate, as the question of which way you will vote in an election is relatively well defined.



21 Responses to “Are the Democrats increasingly becoming just a bunch of socialists?”

  1. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    21. June 2015 at 12:24

    Democracy is itself a form of socialism.

    Democracy is an ethic that allows 51% of the population to engage in anticapitalist behavior, I.e. violate the individual property rights (which is what capitalism requires) of the remaining 49%.

    No individual’s property rights are safe in democracy. They can be voted away, and the individual has to accept it by law.

    The question of whether or not democrats are becoming more socialist has more to do with how they view themselves, more so than what they actually believe.

    Capitalism and socialism are not meaningless concepts. They mean very specific things.

  2. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    21. June 2015 at 12:28

    Socialism is collective ownership of the means of production. This invariably requires a state to enforce worldwide.

    Obamacare is socialist because it is an increase in state control over the means of producing healthcare.

    Capitalism is private ownership of the means of production. This invariably requires an absence of states, since even state monopoly of protection and security is state control over the means of producing protection and security services.

  3. Gravatar of harumpf1 harumpf1
    21. June 2015 at 12:39

    Neither Socialism or Capitalism are “vague” not to anyone but a leftist mired in the various forms of deconstructionism that have been pedaled about these last 50 years.

    And no, Socialism is anything but “a form of democracy”; what silly, ahistorical poppy-cock. It is not “democracy” that has caused the assault on property rights in America, it is the infiltration of the Establishment by then left since WW2 that has caused this, and this is in fact the very opposite of Democracy. Time and time again, the Left uses the apprentice of Democracy to pervert it towards their own end. Socialism always ends in oligarchical collectivism, with the tyranny of the very few of The Party ruing everyone else.

    Lastly, we do not need polls to inform us that Democrats are socialist–yet more poppycock. Goodness, did you miss the New Deal or the ascendancy of the the New Left in the democrat party starting in the late 6os.

    It is comic that you are considering this n ow because the Democrats have gone way beyond “socialism”: Obama and his crew are a new form of Marxist Leninists.

    I suggest you stop reading polls for a bit and crack a history book or two.

  4. Gravatar of benjamin cole benjamin cole
    21. June 2015 at 15:13

    Of course, there is a complete federal health program for former federal employees, paid for entirely by federal tax payers. This program privides health care through federal facilities and is staffed by federal employees—more than 300,000 federal eemployees, from doctors and nurses to administrators. The public will spend $2 trillion in the next 10 years on this program, which is not actually socialism but communism.

    I just described the VA.

  5. Gravatar of ChargerCarl ChargerCarl
    21. June 2015 at 17:59

    Scott I actually do think the Dems are becoming more socialist as a response to the financial crisis, if only very marginally. And on the other side I think the GOP has become a lot more reactionary.

  6. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    21. June 2015 at 19:08

    ‘Consider, for example, the following proposition: once the legal authorities have defined, combined, and assigned property rights, the subsequent recombination or interchange of those rights at the discretion of individuals shall be illegal. Would great numbers of men and women voluntarily risk their livelihoods and their lives to create this institutional arrangement? History says that they have, for that institutional arrangement is socialism.’

    –Thomas Sowell, ‘Knowledge and Decisions’

  7. Gravatar of benjamin cole benjamin cole
    21. June 2015 at 19:28

    P. Sullivan:
    I find it hard to fight and die for “lower tax rates on billionaires.”
    For that, you need mercenaries…you know, professional soldiers…um, like the U.S. has now…

  8. Gravatar of Postkey Postkey
    22. June 2015 at 00:05

    ” . . . the Progressive Change Institute ran a national poll to see whether these ideas are popular with voters.
    The short answer? Yes, they are!”
    National poll of 1,500 likely 2016 voters (Republicans, Independents, Democrats) conducted by GBA Strategies on behalf of the Progressive Change Institute. More details on the poll can be found on the last page, including poll dates, sample sizes, and margin of error.”

  9. Gravatar of David Pinto David Pinto
    22. June 2015 at 02:36

    I think most people believe that socialism is about helping people (being more social) than controlling production.

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    22. June 2015 at 05:27

    Harumpf1, Harumph.

    Chargercarl, Obviously they are moving to the left. The question is whether terms like “socialism” are useful. There are lots of leftists who think Greece is a “failure of capitalism”, and no, I’m not joking.

    I find terms like egalitarianism and statist to be marginally more precise.

    Postkey, Yes you can find polls to show whatever you wish. There are polls showing that most Americans think the top income tax rate should be no higher than 25%.

    David, That’s very likely. And they also probably equate libertarian and libertine. They equate capitalism with pro-business policies.

  11. Gravatar of collin collin
    22. June 2015 at 06:17

    Wow! Bernie Sanders trails HRC in NH by 12 point and Dems are bunch of socialist. I not surprised by the polls because a lot of young people are taking a long time to become successful in their careers. Unfortunately, in the modern economy, the average person is not established until they are near in their career. (Also isn’t Rush Limbaugh losing a lot of listeners?) At this time, Bernie is consolidating a lot of the Biden/Warren supporters and will give HRC a decent run until is he buried in the early Southern Primaries.

    Anyway, in some ways, I trust Bernie Sanders with the US economy more than any other candidate because he is the least likely to start a stupid Mid East War. I can’t vote Republican because they all want to bomb Iran in my view.

  12. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    22. June 2015 at 07:18

    Socialists don’t start wars? Didn’t National Socialist Germany and international socialist Russia collaborate to start WWII?

    Socialist North Korea attack its neighbor to the south? Socialist North Vietnam invade its neighbor? Baath socialist Saddam Hussein invade Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990?

  13. Gravatar of Cory Hoffman Cory Hoffman
    22. June 2015 at 07:22

    All I know is that when I tell conservative republicans about NGDPLT and that we actually need more expansionary monetary policy from the FED a lot of them say that is socialist central planning.

    I listen to talk radio for example and Rush trashesthe FED for “bailing out Obama.”

    So my humble opinion is that terms like “socialist” aren’t helpful. To a lot of folks, thinking the government should do anything to stabilize the economy is socialism. And then you will find people who call you a fascist for the same policies.

  14. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    22. June 2015 at 07:40

    Collin, Um, I think you forgot to read the post before commenting. Sometimes the post title is not enough.

  15. Gravatar of collin collin
    22. June 2015 at 08:30

    Of course capitalist and socialist have started wars. I tend to believe the biggest failure of the Soviet Union is they spent all their resources in fighting Foreign Wars instead improving the lives of the people. In the case of Bernie Sanders, his votes are the most consistent Dovish of any of the 15+ Republicans and HRC who is a lot more hawkish than I am comfortable. I believe she was the loudest voice with the Libya and am very concerned the Iran nuclear don’t go well.

    Anyway, I actually do agree that a higher percentage of Democrats are socialist compared to the old Clinton days. Most of the policies tend to be ‘weak socialism’ like Minimum Wage and trade restrictions in which are not the right direction.

  16. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    22. June 2015 at 08:53

    Did John Roberts just say this;

    ‘”Raisins are private property, the fruit of the growers’ labor, not public things subject to the absolute control of the state,” Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. wrote. “Any physical taking of them for public use must be accompanied by just compensation.”’

  17. Gravatar of Matt McOsker Matt McOsker
    22. June 2015 at 11:23

    Scott Sumner writes:

    I doubt that as much as 43% of the American public even knows what terms like “socialism”, “inflation”, “NGDP growth”, “unemployment”, “quantitative easing”, and “the Fed” mean.

    Probably way less than 43%, and both houses are probably not that far ahead.

  18. Gravatar of ChargerCarl ChargerCarl
    22. June 2015 at 12:07

    Scott I agree with you. I’m sure many Republicans would label me a socialist for supporting universal healthcare even though I’m to the right of them on many economic issues, particularly zoning and land use regulations.

  19. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    22. June 2015 at 16:17

    Another poll shows young people are much more okay with self-styled socialists than old:

  20. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    23. June 2015 at 06:43

    Scott, given your fascination with misleading polls, this opinion piece is worth a skim:

    Wen Nate Silver, the undisputed king of election forecasting, declares that “The World May Have a Polling Problem,” it’s time to take notice. Why are public opinion polls increasingly proving unreliable?

    It seems clear that two things could be happening. Either those who agree to cooperate with the pollsters are unrepresentative of the population, or they are deliberately lying to pollsters about their preferences.

    Why on Earth would either of those, or both, be happening?

    Because there are so many polls in the field that few “normal” people are willing to answer questions honestly, leaving responses to oddballs or those eager to have a little fun at the expense of the pollster.


  21. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    23. June 2015 at 16:44

    Patrick, I did a post at Econlog.

    ChargerCarl, Good point.

    Steve, Interesting, although as I said I think election polls are usually pretty close.

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