In his State of the Union Address, President Donald Trump previewed a theme we are likely to hear a lot about between now and Election 2020. "Here, in the United States," he declared, "we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence -- not government coercion, domination and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country."
Polling conducted shortly after that speech proved that to be a shrewd political framing of the choice facing the nation. Sixty percent of all voters believe that socialism represents a threat to America's founding ideals of freedom, equality and self-governance. That's the reason leading Democratic candidates like Sen. Kamala Harris have been quick to point out that they are not socialists.
Perhaps even more important politically is that concerns about socialism resonate with the president's base while they divide Democrats.
Eighty percent of GOP voters see socialism as a threat to America's founding ideals. So do 57 percent of independent voters. But a narrow majority of Democrats (55 percent) disagree.
The divide among Democrats can be seen in other polling data as well. Forty-eight percent of Democrats would probably vote for a candidate who considers themself to be a socialist. However, 39 percent would prefer a candidate who considers socialism to be a threat to the United States.
For Democrats, the actual danger is even larger. The party has drifted far to the left politically, and many party leaders seem to believe that the nation is ready to embrace the socialism of Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. To bolster that case, they cite polling data showing that roughly 40 percent of the population has a favorable opinion of socialism.
At ScottRasmussen.com, however, we dug a little deeper into the policy preferences of those voters who like socialism. At a very general level, their attitudes reflect many of the talking points used by Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez. They believe everyone should have access to quality health care, we should all be treated equally and with dignity, every American should be able to earn a decent living and we should protect the environment.
But that doesn't mean people who like socialism are hellbent on having the federal government take charge of solving those issues -- quite the contrary. In fact, a majority (54 percent) of those who express a favorable opinion of socialism also believe that it would be better for our nation to have less government control of the economy.
That may sound like a contradiction to those who remember the historical meaning of socialism. But for many, that meaning no longer applies in the 21st century. Among voters today who like socialism, just 32 percent believe it leads to higher taxes and more government control. And 82 percent of those voters also have a favorable opinion of free markets.
The bottom line is that growing support for the term "socialism" does not translate into growing support for traditional socialist policies. If Democrats pursue such policies, they will help ensure a second term for President Trump. That's why the president will probably keep talking about it all the way to Election 2020.