Good News for Bernie Sanders? Poll Shows 47% of Americans Would Vote for a Socialist

A sizeable chunk of Americans say they’d consider voting to send a socialist to the Oval Office.

Marc Daalder June 24, 2015

A new Gallup poll shows that 47 per­cent of Amer­i­cans would con­sid­er vot­ing for a social­ist can­di­date. Gallup has been polling Amer­i­cans on their vot­ing pref­er­ences for can­di­dates of dif­fer­ent back­grounds since 1937, but this year was the first time they inquired about socialism. 

When bro­ken down on par­ty lines, a social­ist can­di­date would earn the con­sid­er­a­tion of 59 per­cent of Democ­rats, 49 per­cent of Inde­pen­dents, and only 26 per­cent of Repub­li­cans. Over­all, social­ism chart­ed the low­est of all the back­grounds ref­er­enced in the poll. Athe­ist and Mus­lim can­di­dates ranked sec­ond- and third-low­est among the Amer­i­can pop­u­lace, at 58 and 60 per­cent respectively.

This poll comes less than two months after Bernie Sanders announced his can­di­da­cy, becom­ing the first self-described social­ist (with at least a decent chance of win­ning) to do so in more than a decade.

Advo­cates for Sanders argue that the Gallup poll is mis­lead­ing for a num­ber of rea­sons. While Amer­i­cans may dis­ap­prove of a social­ist can­di­date, they strong­ly sup­port poli­cies that Sanders stands for. Fifty-two per­cent sup­port a redis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth through heav­i­ly tax­ing the rich, for exam­ple — the high­est num­ber that Gallup has seen since first ask­ing that ques­tion in 1940. And 63 per­cent of Amer­i­cans believe that the cur­rent dis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth in the US is unfair.

Part of the rea­son for this dis­so­nance is con­fu­sion among the Amer­i­ca pop­u­la­tion as to what the word social­ism” even means. Many often asso­ciate it with the author­i­tar­i­an Com­mu­nism of the Sovi­et Union instead of the social democ­ra­cies of mod­ern-day Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries, which Sanders strong­ly backs.

Even though the num­ber of vot­ers who say they would con­sid­er vot­ing for a social­ist can­di­date is below an out­right major­i­ty, the fact that the num­ber of Amer­i­cans who would con­sid­er vot­ing for a social­ist is at 47 per­cent, in a coun­try with a long his­to­ry of vicious red-bait­ing, seems to sug­gest that Amer­i­cans aren’t as afraid of the word social­ist” as many on the Right would like them to be.

Mean­while, Sanders seems to be get­ting through to the Amer­i­can peo­ple. He con­sis­tent­ly draws the largest crowds of any can­di­date to his events in Iowa, and 32 per­cent of New Hamp­shire Democ­rats and 41 per­cent of Wis­con­sin Democ­rats are back­ing him. Sanders has more than sev­en months to build a sol­id vot­ing bloc, before the first pri­maries on Feb­ru­ary 12016.

Marc Daalder is a jour­nal­ist based in Detroit, Michi­gan and Welling­ton, NZ who writes on pol­i­tics, pub­lic hous­ing, and inter­na­tion­al rela­tions. Twit­ter: @marcdaalder.
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