By Mark Penn
Published March 01, 2019
The Democratic Party is reaching a dangerous tipping point over socialism and what it really stands for as the American economy grows nearly 3 per cent, poverty is down and the number of people employed is at a record high.
Yet among young people and a large part of Congress now, socialist sentiment is rising sharply and could be the defining issue of the next elections.
In the February Harvard-Harris Poll, 64 per cent of registered voters said that the Democratic Party is supporting socialism. This is a major shift in the image and perception of the Democratic Party and it could have enormous consequences.
Only about 27 per cent of people classify themselves as liberals, so liberalism and socialism are now about the same in terms of electoral strength.
In the same poll, 65 per cent of Americans said they personally favor mostly a capitalist system for America, indicating a huge and growing disconnect between the Democrats and the rest of the country. Capitalism was particularly strong with voters over age 65 as nearly 80 per cent of them are capitalist.
But among the newest voters, the findings were stunning – 56 percent of those 18 to 24 back socialism. Even those 25 to 34 were closely divided at 52 per cent capitalist and 48 per cent socialist.
America ... does not need to regress into a socialist fantasy that would destroy our economy and eventually our freedoms.
Perhaps this is a failing of the educational system or of college and post-college life in America today that has people living with roommates and groups.
Perhaps it is a function of the delay of marriage and family, so younger voters don’t experience those defining responsibilities until later. Or perhaps it is ignorance on what socialism would mean for America and their lives, and it’s now equated simply with free college and “Medicare- for-all.”
Among just Democrats, 51 per cent say they would prefer socialism today for our country. And 57 per cent of Democrats agree that their party is now socialist.
One group that has been trending Democratic that strongly rejects socialism is the Asian-American community. Some 68 per cent of Asian-Americans prefer capitalism and their votes could be up for grabs. They are both the fastest growing new legal immigrant group and among the most successful, with high average incomes. Most Latinos reject socialism as well.
The Green New Deal, the current embodiment of the new socialist movement, has a lot of support among those who have heard about it. Some 48 per cent support it and 52 per cent oppose, while even more like the promise of guaranteed incomes and eliminating fossil fuels — until people hear that it would curtail air travel and beef. Support for the Green New Deal then plummets to 29 per cent and opposition rises to 71 per cent.
Much like Thanksgiving weekend sales, free programs and socialism are on a rising a wave of popularity – as though everything from health care to education and even income could be guaranteed and free while maintaining an open and democratic system.
Knowledge of how the Russian Revolution resulted in the death and imprisonment of millions before eventually collapsing is barely taught to graduating students. Even knowledge of how Venezuela descended into a socialist nightmare of dictatorship as a result of its turn to the left is largely unknown, though most Americans are supporting the Trump administration’s push to recognize a new regime there and restore freedom to 30 million people.
If you believe as I do that responsible capitalism is the right course for America, then these numbers are a wakeup call that slick politicians who know exactly what they mean by socialism could be swept into office among happy talk of free everything.
America isn’t like Diet Coke – you can’t get all the flavor without the calories. It takes hard work, ingenuity and innovation to achieve 3 per cent growth and provide work for millions in the process.
Do we need to make health care coverage more affordable? Of course. But at the same time, we also have to encourage and incentivize innovation to reduce costs and find new drugs and cures.
Do we need to make college free? Maybe not free, but we have to ensure that every student capable of college can get the financial support necessary to attend and graduate, while being fair to those who choose another route. We also need to make sure that our colleges provide ideologically diverse environments that don’t shortchange the accomplishments of America.
America needs to progress on all counts in the 21st century. It does not need to regress into a socialist fantasy that would destroy our economy and eventually our freedoms.
The Democratic Party needs to get back on the track of being progressive, but not socialist. Forward-thinking and forward-looking, but not pie in the sky. We are just beginning the primary process, and so I am hopeful that the winner of the process can move the rudder if not all the way back to moderate, at least away from this newly popular socialist label.