The majority of Democrats feel positively about socialism, while less than half feel the same about capitalism, according to a new Gallup poll released Monday.
“The major change among Democrats has been a less upbeat attitude toward capitalism, dropping to 47 percent positive this year — lower than in any of the three previous measures,” Gallup wrote. In contrast, 57 percent of Democrats have a positive view of socialism, which is largely unchanged from Gallup’s previous polls in 2016, 2012, and 2010.
The share of Democrats feeling positive about capitalism has never dipped below 50 percent in any the three previous surveys. The previous low-water mark for capitalism among Democrats came in 2010 in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and Wall Street bailouts.
It appears that the pessimism about capitalism is making some Democratic voters more receptive to socialist candidates. Democratic Socialists of America — a largely fringe organization with little political power just a few years ago — have captured the Democratic nominations in state legislature and congressional seats across the country in 2018.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory over powerful Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th district has garnered the most attention, but Democratic Socialists have also captured the Democratic nominations for Michigan’s 13th congressional district (a safe Democratic race with no Republican nominee) and state legislature seats in Maryland, Colorado, Montana, Hawaii and Pennsylvania. And of course the most famous Democratic Socialist, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, seems poised to run for president again in 2020 after a spirited run in 2016.
Those victories have delighted some Republican operatives who believe that their party will benefit from a socialism-vs.capitalism debate. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s brand of politics is far more popular among base voters than establishment Democrats care to admit,” said Jesse Hunt, national press secretary for the Republican Party’s House arm. “The Party has lurched so far to the left it’s hardly recognizable, and that will repel the more moderate, pursuable voters Democrats need to win over in 2018.”
Republicans are far more optimistic about capitalism, with 71 percent expressing a positive view and only 16 percent saying the same about socialism, according to Gallup.
“Thank you for your question, but I have to say, we are capitalist”
And some Democratic Party leaders seem to be fearful that the rise of democratic socialism could alienate swing voters who are persuadable in the Trump era. Asked about democratic socialism at a CNN town hall in 2017, Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi said, “Thank you for your question, but I have to say, we are capitalist.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a potential candidate for president in 2020 and a frequent ally of Sanders, recently said at a town hall that she is a “capitalist to my bones” but that the current system is rigged in favor of the wealthy and powerful.
The vast majority of elected Democrats and Democratic nominees in 2018 are not socialists—and many have lost primaries to more “establishment” candidates—but even a few wins is significant after socialism has largely been a non-factor in American politics for the past several decades. The anti-communist fervor of Cold War politics usually made a public association with socialism a nonstarter in both parties.
But that stigma appears to be wearing off, especially among young voters, who've lived most of their lives after the collapse of the Soviet Union and entered the job market in the aftermath of the Great Recession. The Gallup survey found that 18-29-year-olds across both parties are more pessimistic about capitalism than any age group, with just 45 percent having a positive view. That’s a 12 percent drop since Gallup last asked the question in 2016 and a 23 percent drop since 2010, when 68 percent of 18-29-year-olds expressed a positive view of capitalism.
As Ocasio-Cortez, who is 28, said on the night of her victory in June: "This is not an end; this is the beginning.“
Or as she said recently: "Capitalism has not always existed in the world, and it will not always exist in the world."
Cover: Congressional nominee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stands with Zephyr Teachout after endorsing her for New York City Public Advocate on July 12, 2018 in New York City. The two liberal candidates held the news conference in front of the Wall Street bull in a show of standing up to corporate money. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)