It seems as if all of the hysterical right-wing talk about creeping socialism might be doing some useful work for us after all. Last year, a Rasmussen poll showed that a bare majority of respondents said that they prefered capitalism to socialism, and that people under the age of 30 were almost evenly divided on the question of socialism versus capitalism. Last week, Gallup released a poll with all kinds of interesting information about the ideological proclivities of the American public, and it found that 36% percent of Americans - a minority, but a pretty significant minority - said that they had "a positive view of socialism" off the top of their head. The results are even more interesting when you break them down by ideology and partisan affiliation - 61% of self-identified liberals and 53% of Democrats said that they viewed socialism positively, as did 35% of independents and a surprisingly large 20% of self-identified conservatives.
Of course, all of the usual caveats apply: the poll did not define what socialism is or ask people what they think the term means, and overwhelming majorities still respond favorably to ideological categories like "small business," "free enterprise," and "entrepreneurs." Still, as the authors of the report conclude, "'Socialism' is not a completely negative term in today's America," and more people are likely starting equate the term with Western European welfare states. That's a problem, but I think all of us can agree that it's one that we'd like to have. It beats trying to convince people that socialism doesn't equal breadlines, censorship, the gulag, and the communal sharing of toothbrushes and underwear. One shouldn't place too much stock in polls like this, but it seems as if the discursive barriers that have held the left back for decades might be breaking down a bit. We've got some real opportunities here if we have the courage and imagination to take advantage of them.