American Voters Apparently Fear Sanders’s ‘Socialism’

Eric Zuesse

A Hart/McInturf (NBC/WSJ) poll of 900 registered American voters, issued on September 22nd, shows apparent negative consequences for Bernie Sanders’s characterizing his views as “democratic socialist” as opposed to his instead calling them “progressive,” though the two characterizations are actually the same in meaning. The “socialism” phrasing apparently still triggers a Cold War response in millions of Americans, even among many who actually favor progressive policy-proposals. (Perhaps they equate democratic socialism, such as in Sweden, with dictatorial socialism, such as in the former Soviet Union. If so, Sanders should just drop the “socialism” term altogether, so as not to confuse those people about the ideology that he represents. The “socialism” term is gratuitous and counterproductive for him.)

The key question here was “Q8”:

“I’m going to list people who have said they will run for president. For each one, please tell me whether that person is someone you would (a) be enthusiastic about, (b) be comfortable with, (c) have some reservations about, or (d) be very uncomfortable with. If you don’t know the name, please just say so.”

Here were the results:

“Donald Trump”: 26% “Enthusiastic”; 15% “Comfortable”; 9% “Have Some Reservations”; 49% “Very Uncomfortable”.

“Elizabeth Warren”: 17% “Enthusiastic”; 20% “Comfortable”; 16% “Have Some Reservations”; 33% “Very Uncomfortable”.

“Bernie Sanders”: 13% “Enthusiastic”; 23% “Comfortable”; 21% “Have Some Reservations”; 41% “Very Uncomfortable”.

“Joe Biden”: 12% “Enthusiastic”; 25% “Comfortable”; 27% “Have Some Reservations”; 33% “Very Uncomfortable”.

(Both Harris and Buttigieg were as heavily in the negative as were both Sanders and Biden. By contrast, only Trump and Warren were just slightly in the negative.)

Both Warren and Sanders market themselves as “progressive,” but only Sanders also characterizes himself as a “democratic socialist.” Sanders, in the above figures, is viewed 36% positively and 62% negatively. Warren is viewed 37% positively and 59% negatively. Those figures are close. However, the difference between the two candidates is extreme at the extreme ends: whereas Sanders is 13% “Enthusiastic” versus 41% “Very Uncomfortable,” Warren is 17% “Enthusiastic” versus only 33% “Very Uncomfortable.” Sanders’s “democratic socialism” apparently costs him 4% at the “Enthusiastic” end, and 8% at the “Very Uncomfortable” end. It hurts him significantly at both ends.

Donald Trump has 49% “Very Uncomfortable,” versus 41% that for Sanders, and only 33% (tied) that for both Warren and Biden.

Warren has, overall, done the best job of exciting her base without severely antagonizing the rest. Her 37% positive versus 49% negative contrasts favorably against Trump’s 41% positive versus 58% negative. Both Sanders and Biden have significantly worse numbers, overall, than do Warren (the best) and Trump (the second-best).

Based just on these numbers, Warren therefore would probably be the strongest candidate to oppose Trump in the general election, as of now.

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Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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