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Socialism No Longer a Dirty Word in American Political Discourse
01.03.2019
Tags: Socialism

Since Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a self-identified socialist, had a strong showing in the 2016 Democratic Presidential Primary, the word ‘socialism’ has increasingly crept into American political discourse. A debate over its meaning reignited earlier this year when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a political novice, and member of the Democratic Socialist Party of America, felled veteran Congressman Joe Crowley of New York in a primary, who was also a senior member of the House Democratic leadership.

A majority (54 percent) of Americans identify socialism as a system of government that provides citizens with services like health insurance, retirement support, and access to free higher education, according to PRRI’s 2018 American Values Survey. Forty-three percent of Americans say socialism is a system where the government controls key parts of the economy, such as utilities, transportation, and communications industries.

Across all age groups, a majority say socialism is a system of government-sponsored social safety-nets, rather than a system where the government controls key parts of the economy. Young Americans (age 18 to 29) are the most likely to define socialism as a system of government that provides citizens with health insurance, retirement support, and access to free higher education (58 percent). Conversely, 38 percent of young Americans say socialism is a system where the government controls key parts of the economy, such as utilities, transportation, and communications industries.

There is a stark difference on this question between partisans, with 61 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents saying socialism is a system of government-sponsored social safety-nets, versus only 43 percent of Republicans. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say that socialism is about government control of certain industries (54 percent vs. 36 percent).

Divides are even more pronounced along religious affiliation as 64 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans say that socialism is a system of government that provides citizens with health insurance, retirement support, and access to free higher education and only 34 percent say that it is a system where the government controls key parts of the economy. Only four in ten (40 percent) white evangelical Protestants agree that socialism is a system providing citizens with such services, while close to six in ten (58 percent) say that socialism is a system where the government controls key parts of the economy, such as utilities, transportation, and communications industries.