Bernie Sanders has taken a decisive lead among Democratic voters nationally, according to two polls out Wednesday, hours before the next debate, in Las Vegas. What’s less clear from the polling is whether Sanders’ embrace of socialism could hurt him in a general election against President Trump.
The Vermont senator and self-described democratic socialist has overtaken former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s lost his lead after a pair of underwhelming performances in Iowa and New Hampshire. Biden’s in second in the national Washington Post-ABC News poll, with 16% of the likely Democratic vote. Sanders surged up to 32%, with a 3-to-1 lead over his rivals among voters under 50. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took third, with 14% of likely Dem voters saying he’s their pick.
That’s a big change from the last round of polls. In January, a Post-ABC News poll had Biden leading the pack with 32% of Dem voters leaning toward him. Bernie was then at 23%. Bloomberg was way down at 8%.
Socialism, however, isn’t quite as popular as Bernie.
Sanders has emphasized that his version of socialism is avowedly small-d democratic and anti-authoritarian. “We must recognize that in the 21st century, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, economic rights are human rights. That is what I mean by democratic socialism,” the senator said last year in a speech where he defined his views.
The results of a separate poll, also released Wednesday, indicate that maybe socialism isn’t quite enjoying the surge that Bernie is. Only 28% of Americans said they had a favorable view of the Sanders-embraced ideology — and 58% said they had an unfavorable impression, according to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.
But that’s not the case among Democrats. Among them, socialism is surging and progressives are especially likely to be down with it. Half of Democrats said they had a favorable view of socialism, and more than two-thirds of self-identified progressives said the same.
Whatever the case may be for “socialism” as a label, Dem-leaning voters don’t appear to have much of a problem with Bernie’s platform. Among the respondents to the Post-ABC poll, only 17 percent said Bernie was “too liberal,” and 62 percent of Democratic-leaning adults said his stance was “about right” ideologically.
Half of all Americans — Republican and Democrat — said Sanders’ embrace of socialism would make no difference in their vote. About 7 in 10 Democrats said his socialism wouldn’t make a difference in their vote.
Both polls indicate that voters have confidence that Sanders can take on President Donald Trump in a head-to-head contest: 72 percent of Democrats in the Post-ABC poll said Sanders would beat Trump in the general, while only 69 percent of Dems said Bloomberg would unseat the president, and 68 percent said the same of Biden. Sanders beats Trump 48% to 45%, according to the NPR poll.
Cover: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a campaign event at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)