Donald Trump has spent much of this year campaigning against socialism. The president opened his campaign with a rambling February 5 State of the Union address, in which he declared, “Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.” A month later, in March, Trump appeared with Jair Bolsonaro, the right-wing strongman who recently became Brazil’s president, and announced that “The twilight hour of socialism has arrived.”
That was wishful thinking on the president’s part.
The numbers are in. The president is down. Socialism is up.
“Trump Approval Edges Down to 42%,” read the headline from a May 17 Gallup review of its latest polling on the president’s appeal.
Three days later, Gallup reported that “43% of Americans say socialism would be a good thing for the country.”
That’s right—after months of attacking socialism, Trump came into mid-May with a 42 percent approval rating while socialism scored a 43. In fairness to Trump, these recent polls have margins of error, and surveys of presidential popularity and ideological alignment measure different apples and oranges. But it is still striking, as Trump’s approval numbers are ticking downward, socialism seems to be holding its own. Indeed, Gallup now notes, “about four in 10 Americans are accepting of some form of socialism or socialist policies.”
What’s even more striking are the measures of who likes socialism. The ideology is narrowly ahead with women, 48 percent of whom say that socialism is good for the country, as opposed to 47 percent who say it’s bad. (Men go 56 percent “bad,” versus 38 percent “good.”) And the Gallup survey suggests socialism is way ahead with nonwhite Americans, 57 percent of whom say its good for the country, versus just 35 percent who label the ideology bad.
Socialism is especially popular with young people. Among the Americans aged 18–34 who were surveyed by Gallup, 58 percent say it’s good for the country.
So if the future is female, if America is growing more diverse, and if today’s young people are destined to become more influential in our politics, it is entirely reasonable to suggest that socialism is “trending.”
Gallup’s analysis is correct when it suggests that “Americans’ views on socialism are complex. While some recent data can easily lend to overstated conclusions, there are marked changes in Americans’ views of socialism when taking a longer, more historical look at the data. However, exactly what Americans mean by the term is nuanced and multifaceted.”
True enough. For instance, does it matter if the word “democratic” is attached so that the ideology is identified as “democratic socialist”? That’s how Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez identifies, as do many of the new members of city councils and state legislatures who have been elected with the support of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
The polls tell us that a good deal of socialism’s appeal has to do with a sense that capitalism isn’t working, and DSA addresses this sentiment. “Democratic socialism fights inequality by giving power back to the workers through unions and true representation. It overcomes alienation and inequality by strengthening civil rights and building solidarity among the many,” the group argues. “No system is perfect, but the one we live in now is needlessly cruel and unfair—and millions want something new, something better.”
But is it imaginable that Americans might choose a democratic socialist over a socialism-bashing president? The latest national survey from the Emerson College polling group has the nation’s best-known democratic socialist, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, beating Trump by eight points. When Trump started his campaign against socialism in February, Emerson’s polling had Sanders leading the president only narrowly: 51-49. Three months into the campaign, Trump’s support has fallen to 46 percent, while the democratic socialist has risen to 54 percent.