Democratic socialists impact 2018 midterm elections: A look at the national organization

From Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Cynthia Nixon, a handful of self-proclaimed Democratic socialists are making waves in the 2018 midterm elections.

With the election of President Trump, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has seen a nationwide surge in the strength and popularity of an organization that typically operated on the fringes of leftist politics.

Read on for a look at what the DSA organization advocates for and how it's impacting midterm elections.


A Democratic socialist is someone thinks the “economy and society should be run democratically” with the end goal of meeting public needs instead of turning a profit, according to DSA’s website.

DSA staunchly opposes the capitalist economic system.

DSA’s constitution says members “reject an economic order based on private profit, alienated labor, gross inequalities of wealth and power, discrimination based on race, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, disability status, age, religion, and national origin, and brutality and violence in defense of the status quo.”

“We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships,” their constitution states.


Medicare for All is a major campaign DSA advocates for, along with advancing unions and promoting Democratic socialist candidates. Other movements DSA supports include pro-abortion advocacies, alleviating the student debt crisis and raising minimum wage.

Anyone who agrees with principles of DSA can apply to become a member.


The Democratic Socialists of America got its start as a culmination of two groups – the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) and the New American Movement (NAM) – according to Temple University professor Joseph M. Schwartz, who detailed the organization’s history online.

As DSA’s membership grew from its official founding in 1982, it had a hand in “building a strong coalition among progressive trade unionists, civil rights and feminist activists and the ‘new politics’ left-liberals” at the time, led by late chairman Michael Harrington.

In the 1990s, DSA pushed for a universal healthcare system, Schwartz wrote, making single-payer and Medicare for All health care plans a “major national priority.” Later, the group would oppose wars in Afghanistan and Iraq under the second Bush administration, and took part in the Occupy Movement in 2011.


Harrington died in 1989, but by the 2016 presidential election, DSA had a new de facto leader: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Electing Sanders, an independent, to the White House became the “number one priority” of DSA in late 2014, according to Schwartz.

Its paid membership recently hit 46,000 nationwide after seeing an influx in interest following President Trump’s election, the group said. (Prior to his election, the group boasted about 6,000 members.)

Prominent members

New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has emerged as a popular member of DSA. Ocasio-Cortez, 28, stunned the political world earlier this year when she defeated longtime incumbent Rep. Joseph Crowley in New York’s Democratic primary.

Zak Ringelstein, a Maine Senate candidate, announced his DSA membership in July 2018. He is running against incumbent Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats.

“I stand with the Democratic socialists, and I have decided to become a dues-paying member,” Ringelstein told The Associated Press. “It’s time to do what’s right, even if it’s not easy.”


Cynthia Nixon, a progressive activist who is challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York’s Democratic gubernatorial primary in September, has also aligned herself with the group.

New Yorkers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cynthia Nixon have emerged as popular democratic socialists running the 2018 midterm elections.

New Yorkers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cynthia Nixon have emerged as popular democratic socialists running the 2018 midterm elections. (Getty Images/Scott Heins)

“Some more establishment, corporate Democrats get very scared by this term but if being a Democratic socialist means that you believe health care, housing, education and the things we need to thrive should be a basic right not a privilege then count me in,” Nixon told Politico. “As Martin Luther King put it, call it democracy or call it Democratic socialism, but we have to have a better distribution of wealth in this country.”

2018 influence

DSA has endorsed 42 people running for office at the federal, state and local levels this year. These endorsements span 20 states, including Florida, Hawaii, Kansas and Michigan.

Hawaii state Rep. Kaniela Ing, 29, said he decided to run for Congress because he was encouraged by Ocasio-Cortez. He also doesn’t shy away from his status as a Democratic socialist.

Despite Ocasio-Cortez’s recent success, many DSA-backed candidates have struggled.

Gayle McLaughlin finished eighth in last month's Democratic primary to become California's lieutenant governor, earning just 4 percent of the vote. All three endorsed candidates for Maryland's Montgomery County Council lost last month as well. And Ryan Fenwick was blown out by 58 points in his run to become mayor of Louisville, Kentucky.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.