Despite all the right-wing demonizing of Bernie Sanders as a “socialist” and countless crude allusions to the horrors of the Soviet Union (which had very little to do with “socialism” and everything to do with totalitarianism), it appears that the ideology that brought us vital institutions like Social Security and Medicaid is making a resurgence in its popularity – at least among Democrats who are capable of kicking the Cold War era knee-jerk rejection and understanding its potential value in rectifying the alarming income inequality that is crippling the American middle class and empowering the oligarchs.
A new poll by Republican firm OnMessage Inc has found that nearly six-in-ten Democratic primary voters view socialism as a preferable system of socioeconomic governance over unfettered free-market capitalism – a view that was shared among every age group, gender, and race of queried voters. These results confirm similar numbers from a January poll conducted by Bloomberg and the Des Moines Register, which found that 43% of voters self-identified as “socialist.” The poll does not couch the questions in terms of preference of self-declared democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders or of centrist Hillary Clinton, but instead asks questions about the role of government and how much power corporations and the wealthy should have over our society.
Specifically, the two options were defined as follows:
Socialism was defined as a system for those who believe “corporations have too much control and that the capitalist system is set up to favor the rich and powerful,” and that “the only way to police corporations and protect the citizens is for the government to take a larger role in managing the economy to make sure that every individual has equal access to basic necessities and public goods, even if that means that some people have to transfer their wealth to others.”
Free market capitalism, meanwhile, was described as the world-view for those who “say that it’s not the government’s job to pick winners and losers and that government intervention only leads to inefficiency. They say that capitalism produces the greatest amount of personal and economic freedom for every individual and [it] ultimately results in the best economic outcome for society, even if some people are left behind because they can’t compete.”
Even a cursory analysis of the American economy and the state of the American middle class reveals that unfettered free-market capitalism has resulted in massive income inequality that funnels wealth to the richest Americans, where it remains. Scientific American reports that “the top 20% of US households own more than 84% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% combine for a paltry 0.3%.” There is very little “trickling down,” and most of the American population is entirely ignorant of this fact: “The median American estimated that the CEO-to-worker pay-ratio was 30-to-1, and that ideally, it’d be 7-to-1. The reality? 354-to-1. Fifty years ago, it was 20-to-1.”
What is even clearer is that the lies that the staunchly hypercapitalist Republican Party pushes on the American people are working to tease us with false hopes of the “rags-to-riches” dream that is an important part of the mythology of the American Dream, but in reality is just that – a myth. The Pew Charitable Trusts found that “more than 40 percent of Americans raised in the bottom quintile of the family income ladder remain stuck there as adults, and 70 percent remain below the middle” – but still Americans cling to that myth, with as many as 60% still believing that hard work, no matter your circumstance of origin can help you get ahead in this nation, refusing to acknowledge that the system is rigged in favor of the wealthy.
Americans need to open their eyes and begin demanding that their politicians begin to work towards rectifying this equality crisis in America – and yes, it will take some form of wealth redistribution – which, in a democratic socialist interpretation, means increasing taxes on the rich so that they pay their fair share and wealth continues to cycle throughout the economy. Huge multinational corporations squirrel away two trillion dollars in offshore tax havens – money that never re-enters the economy, that is not used to spur growth or invest or build. The rich pay very little in taxes and guard their wealth jealously; all three major remaining Republican candidates have proposed massive tax cuts that would drastically exacerbate the situation and would be a huge payday for the wealthy.
If the American people truly want to make the American Dream a reality, we must wake up and break the stranglehold that the wealthy oligarchs hold over our nation – and it’s gonna take a little socialism to do it. Which, as this poll shows, is a very popular idea among Democratic voters. This election is a referendum on what kind of nation we really want to be – one that takes care of all of its citizens, no matter their draw in the lottery of birth? Or one that allows those born into advantage to prey on the rest and condemns the majority of its citizens to a life of struggling against poverty?
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.