In an April 2009 poll conducted by Rasmussen, respondents were asked "which is a better system-capitalism or socialism?" Just 53% of adult Americans prefer capitalism, 20% of respondents favor socialism and 27% responded not sure. These figures suggest that Americans' attitudes toward alternatives to capitalism may be shifting and that we are living in a time that holds the potential to mark a radical change in the landscape of American politics.
The Rasmussen poll was conducted during one of the greatest economic crisises in the history of capitalism. The resulting pressure is forcing Americans to begin to think critically about ideas that they had previously accepted as given. With more and more people facing the prospect of losing their jobs, houses, healthcare, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the inequalities and injustices of capitalism. What this has translated to is people becoming more open to ideas about alternative visions for structuring society. In short, socialism is back.
In addition to the economic crisis, the right wing's accusation of Obama being a socialist appears to be backfiring. Conservatives were attempting to cash in on a well established strategy of 20th century American political life. These attacks have unintentionally served to get socialism into heavy rotation in the mainstream media, thereby increasing the public's interest and curiosity. Fear mongering and the paranoid style seem to be offering declining political returns.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of this poll is the response from people under thirty. The statistics indicate that 66% of this demographic are actively questioning capitalism as a system. This makes clear that the Cold War fear of socialism, created to shape the American mindset, is withering away. It is being replaced by a political openness to new ideas about how to organize society. This means there is a space for socialists where a serious dialogue can begin, which can connect Americans to grassroots organizing.
The limitation of the poll is that it does not define socialism. Socialists themselves need to carry out this task. The Socialist Party-USA is interested in finding out how people conceive of socialism and in meeting them where they are. Our conception of socialism is a democratic society where people have access to what they need in order to live a full life. Human needs are always put before private profits. This includes healthcare, education, access to jobs, and a clean environment. Socialists hope that the moment for polling will soon be past, and we will find ourselves in a moment of action for radical social and political change.