Turns Out Socialism Polls Badly When You Tell People It'll Be Horrible

Photo: J. Scott Applewhite (AP)

Is socialism popular? Let’s turn to a fair, neutral observer to find out: the American Action Network, which is affiliated with the Congressional Leadership Fund, whose job it is to elect House Republicans.

Leading off today’s Politico Playbook is polling from the AAN about socialism and leading policy proposals of the Democratic left, including Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Here’s how it’s described:

THE AMERICAN ACTION NETWORK — a center-right group that supports House GOP-linked policies — just conducted a relatively major research project, in which they polled 30 House districts: 10 that were Trump districts in 2016, 12 that were battlegrounds and eight suburban districts.

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Personally, a “relatively major research project” is not how I would describe an affiliate of the Republican Party push-polling respondents on policies they oppose with every fiber of their being. But let’s keep an open mind, shall we? Emphasis mine:

THE MAIN TAKEAWAYS are that socialism, broadly speaking, is unpopular, but Republicans have work to do if they want to tarnish some key Democratic proposals. Once voters hear about the agenda as framed by Republicans, 61% say it is socialist. Calling Democrats’ policies “socialist” causes a 10-point drop in their popularity.

— FOR EXAMPLE: Take ‘MEDICARE FOR ALL.’ When asked about supporting Medicare for All, and hearing it described as “guaranteed health care coverage regardless of … income, and every American’s health insurance would come from a single government-run plan,” 41%favor it, 55% oppose and 4% are unsure. When Republicans start describing it as causing “doctor shortages, longer wait times for urgent care and delays in access to the latest drugs for cancer and other serious diseases,” the numbers move to 34% favor and 60% oppose.

You mean to tell me that if you tell the people you’re surveying about all of the supposedly horrible aspects of single-payer that don’t exist even in below-average Western healthcare systems (we are at the bottom, of course), you can influence how they view single-payer? As Kaiser found in a poll back in June, Medicare for All is deeply misunderstood, which I would suggest is no thanks to top Democratic party figures like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi consistently misinforming the public as to what Medicare for All will actually do.

What we don’t have, it seems like, is a poll that accurately describes the Medicare for All plan as written, and what people would think about not paying deductibles or co-pays anymore, and probably paying less for healthcare overall. That seems like an important question, albeit one that’s not going to be asked by a Republican think tank.

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But as bad as that is, the push-polling on the Green New Deal is even more egregious:

— THE ‘GREEN NEW DEAL’ is actually above water when described as a plan that “would work to address climate change and income inequality, and transition the United States from an economy built on fossil fuels to one driven by clean energy.” 48% favor, 46% oppose and 7%are unsure.

IT SINKS when Republicans start describing it as potentially costing “93 trillion dollars” and hiking energy bills by $3,000. It goes then to 32% support and 61% oppose.

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The AAN’s “polling memo” describes this push on the Green New Deal as “the application of basic information” about the plan. So where does the $93 trillion price tag come from? The American Action Forum, a right-wing “sister organization” of the AAN. Yes, they cited their own numbers here, which, as I noted when this bunk-ass report came out back in February, places the price tag on a job guarantee between $7 and $45 trillion dollars. (The decidedly not-socialist Brookings Institution’s high-end estimate of the job guarantee, meanwhile, was $5.4 trillion over 10 years.)

Apart from the frustrating way in which this poll is presented here—major research project,” really?—the fact is that these kinds of polls are useful for politicians and parties to see what kinds of talking points might work, and not much else. Yes, we now know the Republicans (and the center-right Democrats mirroring their talking points) stand to benefit from lying about how bad a single-payer system is. What a shocker.

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As an aside: even if you describe Medicare for All and the Green New Deal in the most negative terms, as AAN did here, they still have better approval ratings than the Trump tax cuts when they were passed in 2017. So, maybe there’s a lesson in all of this: polls shouldn’t dictate public policy. And if they do, it might be nice to give people all of the available information before they decide that they hate it.

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