The Crosstab Weekly Newsletter 📊 February 24, 2019

Is it time that the left abandons the term "socialism?" + Republicans' "Real" Trump approval, Sanders, and the Brexit vote

Welcome! I’m G. Elliott Morris, data journalist for The Economist and blogger of polls, elections, and political science. Happy Sunday! Here’s my weekly newsletter with links to what I’ve been reading and writing that puts the news in context with public opinion polls, political science, other data — then looks briefly at the week ahead. Let’s jump right in! Feedback? Drop me a line or just respond to this email. 

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This Week's Big Question

Has (democratic) “socialism” hurt progressivism in America?

At the very least, it gives Republicans an attack line they don’t deserve.

It is time to rebrand. Prominent members of the big-D Democratic left, with its progressive ideas like universal healthcare and green energy, should stop calling themselves “socialist” and start calling themselves… I don’t know, progressives? The conflation of actual “seize the means of production” socialism with big-government policies only hurts the popularity of social services and public spending that Americans are largely in favor of. This is even truer among older Americans, who have held onto their Cold War imaginations of the red bear. Of course, there are some actual socialists in the mix, and we should let their ideas be, but it only damages the liberal ideas of the American left to categorize itself via this outdated typification. Gone are the days when a certain Senator from Vermont had to be an Independent socialist to assert his ideas, and in are the days when Democrats largely agree on a comprehensive social safety net, progressive tax structure, and, yes, some proposals in, say, Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s Green New Deal.

Let me start off with one thing that is obvious, but important: the “socialist” label is unpopular in America today. Perhaps more importantly, opinions toward the term are largely unchanged over the last decade. See this chart from Washington Post’s Aaron Blake:

According to Blake’s aggregation of public polling, the term is seen as negative by roughly 20 percentage points more Americans than those who view it positively.

This is the foundation of my argument, and it’s why Trump can, for example, hold a rally in southern Florida and conflate Maduro’s failed socialism in Venezuela with the Democrats’ goals for 2020, without receiving profound backlash from the media for the obvious inaccuracy of the (implied) comparison. Trump’s 2020 campaign spokesperson said shortly after Bernie Sanders announced his plans to run for president:

“Bernie Sanders has already won the debate in the Democrat primary, because every candidate is embracing his brand of socialism, but the American people will reject an agenda of sky-high tax rates, government-run health care, and coddling dictators like those in Venezuela.”

Comments like these are not new. For decades, Republicans have compared left-leaning politicians to Venezuela’s Maduro. Judging by the graph above, that comparison has at least worked to keep the national opinion of “socialism” down, if not also in decreasing the Democrats’ appeal by making the party seem more left-leaning (IE: in the realm of Marx and Owen) than it really is. The comparisons are, mostly, just plain wrong.

But Democrats aren’t doing themselves any favors in this department. Sanders’ embrace on the national debate stage of “democratic socialism” leaves a bad taste in many Americans mouths; the academic and operational differences between the big-government dream that he describes and Stalin’s USSR often fall on deaf ears. But to be fair, it’s not like this is completely unwarranted.

I maintain that progressive liberals need to abandon the term “socialist” primarily because it darkens their broader policy goals, which are not on the whole socialist. To be sure, there are parts of the American left’s ideas that make the comparison at least partially legitimate — especially among the young. As The Economist outlines last week, The Sanders/Ocasio-Cortez “socialism” shares with the actual political philosophy a trust in the purity of mass participation, the idea that massive wealth redistribution can efficiently pay for expensive and ambitious social programs, and that corporations have abandoned altogether the interests of “regular people.”

These ideological similarities between America’s (youthful) left-liberals and real socialism would not disappear were the left to abandon the term. But the right’s implication that Democrats support a government in the style of Marx and Maduro would vanish. Put simply, the word has lost any clear meaning in American politics, and it’s time for it to go. That would help advance progressive causes.

Political Data

Alexander Agadjanian: Trump approval is lower among 2011 Republicans

“Trump approval is indeed lower among an original, pre-Trump Republican base group--but not substantially. If we had an earlier measure of party on people participating in polls currently, Trump approval would still be very high (83%) though not as high as they show now (89%) … Endogenous partisanship is a problem when evaluating Trump's base numbers, but not a big one. Concerns continue to be exaggerated”

Gallup: Democratic States Exceed Republican States by Four in 2018

“In 2018, 22 U.S. states were Democratic in party orientation, based on the party preferences or leanings of their residents. Another 18 were Republican and 10 were competitive. That four-state Democratic advantage is typical of what Gallup has found in recent years, though Democrats enjoyed much larger leads in 2008 and 2009, and Republican states outnumbered Democratic ones in 2015 and 2016.”

The Economist: Profiles of a divided country

“Unsurprisingly, the younger, wealthier and more educated an individual is, the more likely he or she is to want to remain in the EU.”

Gallup: Understanding Shifts in Democratic Party Ideology

“Taken together, these findings suggest that proposals to shrink the wealth gap, strengthen labor unions and address climate change could have broad appeal in the party. At the same time, Democrats risk alienating center-right elements of the party should they move far to the left on certain social issues, government-run healthcare or defense spending. The Democrats' grand unifier, however, stands outside the party. Despite differing ideologies and opposing views on some issues, on average last year, 82% of conservative Democrats, 91% of moderate Democrats and 96% of liberal Democrats disapproved of the job President Donald Trump was doing as president. That suggests few Democrats would back Trump in 2020, even if their party lurches far to the left. The bigger risk would be dampening voter enthusiasm and turnout among centrist and right-leaning Democrats. That can be avoided by treading carefully on issues where strong intraparty divisions persist.”

Nate Silver: How Bernie’s 2020 Map Might Change Without The #NeverHillary Vote

“Roughly one-quarter of Sanders’s support in Democratic primaries and caucuses in 2016 came from #NeverHillary voters: people who didn’t vote for Clinton in the 2016 general election and who had no intention of doing so. 


None of this dooms Sanders by any means. On balance, [Sanders"] probably benefits from a divided field, in fact, wherein his extremely loyal base gives him a high floor of support. But a multi-way race is way different than a two-way one, so Sanders’s coalition may not be all that similar to what we saw in 2016.”

What it means to be “Truly American”. From PRRI’s “American Democracy in Crisis: The Fate of Pluralism in a Divided Nation”

“After the three traits identified above, Republicans are most likely to say that believing capitalism is the best economic system (79%) and believing in God (73%) are somewhat or very important for being truly American. By contrast, Democrats are most likely to say that being able to speak English (78%) is somewhat or very important for being truly American. Democrats’ are much less likely to say that any other trait is somewhat or very important for being truly American; less than half say that believing capitalism is the best economic system (46%), believing in God (42%), or being born in America (43%) are somewhat or very important for being American.”

Other Data and Cool Work

Daniel Hentz:  What do freelance writers make?

“More than 60 percent of freelancers on WhoPaysWriters report being paid 25 cents per word or less. Some familiar publications in this list include Slate, NPR, Buzzfeed, Vice and The Atlantic. So if you’re a first time writer, it might be worth taking a second to dispel the notion that the publication you idolize must pay well – according to this data, they often don’t. Of course, many writers argue that it could be worth getting a piece into a high-profile outlet like The Atlantic for less pay, if only for the name recognition. That’s a different kind of value in its own right.”

Axios: Instagram is an engagement powerhouse

Instagram's top 10 accounts generate more than 6 times more interactions than Facebook's most-engaged accounts, according to data from CrowdTangle between Nov. 17-Feb. 17. These numbers illustrate the level of engagement Instagram has captured. The disadvantage in MAUs can be overcome if users come to the platform more times in a day, spend more time when on the app, and engage more while there.

Political Science, Survey Research, and Other Nerdy Things

Carlos Algara and Isaac Hale: “The distorting effects of racial animus on proximity voting in the 2016 elections”

“We find that racial animus among voters helped Republicans at multiple ballot levels and that higher levels of racial animus distorted spatial voting among voters ideologically closest to the Democratic candidate.”

Stephen M. Utych: “Man Bites Blue Dog: Are Moderates Really More Electable than Ideologues?

“I find that, while moderates have historically enjoyed an advantage over ideologically extreme candidates in Congressional elections, this gap has disappeared in recent years, where moderates and ideologically extreme candidates are equally likely to be elected. This change persists for both Democratic and Republican candidates.”

Julia Azari and Seth Masket: The DNC’s Debate Rules Won’t Make The 2020 Primaries Any Less Chaotic

“The fundraising minimums imposed by the DNC this year are new, and while they may help lesser-known candidates with strong grassroots support earn a seat at the debates, they could leave the party vulnerable in other ways. Relying on small-dollar donors may help immunize candidates from allegations that they serve corporate interests, but those small donors are some of the most ideologically polarized political backers, which could push an extreme candidate to the front of the field and hurt Democrats’ chances in the general election. Alternatively, a self-financing billionaire with low name recognition might be left off the debate invitation list, which means that candidate would get less the vetting than others but would still be able to exert significant influence on the primaries and caucuses in 2020. But more inclusive thresholds for who gets to debate might mean that the field remains fractured and chaotic for longer. As long as parties face pressure to both winnow the primary field and be inclusive of all kinds of candidates, they’ll have to choose one direction or another — it’s hard to do both at once.”

What I'm Reading and Working On

A passage from Greg Sargent’s An Uncivil War: Taking Back Our Democracy in an Age of Trumpian Disinformation and Thunderdome Politics that struck me as worth repeating:

“Many states are increasingly passing laws designed to make it harder to vote, which itself represents a backslide of sorts. And while it’s hard to measure in the moment how much this will limit ballot access, there is no reasonable justification for many of these efforts to limit that access, particularly the ones that appear deliberately designed to do so with an eye toward manipulating the makeup of the electorate.”

Yeah, that seems exactly right to me. As I wrote this week, there is a pile of evidence that is growing in size that finds that voter ID laws don’t just have null disproportionate impact on turnout, but might not hurt turnout at all. But that’s not the point. Rather, the danger is that politicians are exercising their power to limit access to the voting booth to shore up their own electoral prospects. This is a tale as old as time — and one retold just last month when GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said that making Election Day a federal holiday was a “political power grab” designed to “rewrite the rules to favour [Democrats] and their friends.”

So I’m reading Greg’s book, and I’m also jumping in to a book on white identity politics and populism. It’s 600 pages, so I’ll likely be stuck in this bleak world of ethno-nationalism for a few weeks.


Thanks for reading. I’ll be back in your inbox next Sunday. In the meantime, follow me online or reach out via email. I’d love to hear from you!

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