It is probably difficult for anyone who was politically aware during the Cold War to believe there would ever be a major United States election where more of the electorate considered itself socialist than capitalist.
However, according to the "gold standard" of Iowa pollsters, that is exactly what is about to happen in the upcoming Democratic presidential caucuses.
The latest Selzer and Co. poll of Iowa likely Democratic caucus-goers shows that more consider themselves socialist—43 percent—than capitalist, at 38 percent. Aaron Blake at the Washington Post provides the details:
A little-noticed data point in the new Selzer & Co. Iowa poll, in fact, shows that 43 percent of likely voters in the Feb. 1 caucuses say they would use the word "socialist" to describe themselves.
And to be very clear, this question was not whether they would vote for a socialist or sympathize with socialism; it's whether they consider themselves socialist.
The 43 percent of likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers who self-identify as socialist is actually more than the number who identify themselves as capitalist — 38 percent.
The poll also found that supporters of self-proclaimed democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders are almost twice as likely to consider themselves socialist compared to supporters of Sec. Hillary Clinton.
This isn't the first poll in recent years to suggest that socialism, while not widely popular in the United States, is not quite as dirty a word in American politics as one might expect. In 2011, Pew Research polling found that socialism was actually viewed more favorably than capitalism by some sizable demographics groups, inccluding liberal Democrats, blacks, Latinos, households making less than $30,000, and Americans aged 18-29.
What could be the cause of this upswing for socialism in America? When I told my wife about these numbers, she joked that Republicans calling Barack Obama and all his policies socialist has probably turned quite a few Americans in favor of socialism. That makes sense to me.