So, while some might scoff at Sen. Bernie Sander’s (I-VT) self-described “democratic socialism and think it won’t resonate with the electorate, let’s not forget the Reason-Rupe poll that showed just as many Democrats who viewed capitalism favorably, viewed socialism with the same regard. Philip Bump at the Washington Post noted this flashback today, but also included that self-avowed socialists have done miserably in national elections. Nevertheless, when Sanders does announce his 2016 intentions Thursday, he will do so with a Democratic coalition that has a “meh” reaction to the word. Moreover, an entire cornerstone–young people–that is less hostile to the term, but can’t really define what it is when asked (via WaPo):
When he first won election to the House in 1990, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) embraced his political identity. "I am a socialist and everyone knows that," Sanders said, responding to an ad that tried to link him to the regime of Fidel Castro.
He continued: "They also understand that my kind of democratic socialism has nothing to do with authoritarian communism."
Last year, a Reason-Rupe poll asked people about their attitudes toward various economic systems. More than half of respondents viewed capitalism favorably, while 36 percent viewed socialism positively. Among Democrats, capitalism and socialism were viewed similarly, with 52 percent of those responding giving a thumbs up. (Slightly more Democrats viewed socialism very favorably, but not to a point of statistical significance.)
That's assuming people knew what socialism was. Asked to define the term, one-fifth said it referred to government control of the economy. A quarter said they didn't know. Other research suggests that younger people are both less hostile to the concept and less likely to know what it is, having lived through less of the Cold War.
So when Bernie Sanders, avowed socialist, announces his presidential bid on Thursday, he will not have a large pool of Socialists from which to draw support. But he will also probably not have to deal with any ads linking him to Cuba. If in 1990 "they" understood that Sanders' form of socialism wasn't the same as Castro's communism, now, Democrats in particular don't really care.
Somewhat amazingly, socialism has seen its political slate nearly wiped clean.
Yet, Sanders’ democratic socialism isn’t the issue. It’s whether he can successfully build a national campaign apparatus, grease it with enough campaign cash to last him through the early voting states, and siphon enough Hillary voters, who have so far been in lock-step behind her–in the polls and in Congress. On the GOP side, some potential candidates, like Scott Walker, will have to raise at least $75 million for the early voting states. With the Democrats, it’s a less competitive field, but it’s still an expensive venture. So, in all, yes, it’s probably a bit disconcerting that a lot of Democrats believe in a system of economics that eventually leads to neoliberal reforms to right itself (hey, that’s what happens when government-run industries balloon and you waste other people’s money), but it’s safe to say that government philosophy is the least of Sanders campaign problems concerning Hillary.