In a strict dictionary sense, it is an ideology in which the means of production and distribution should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole. But rarely is that description the one used by
Rather, perceptions vary widely to include universal health care, a safety net for the nation's most vulnerable citizens and causes historically championed by the labor movement all the way to the tattered economy in
Americans often incorrectly use "socialism" interchangeably with "communism," which is a society in which all property is publicly owned and workers give "from each according to their ability" and receive "to each according to their needs," as described by
The response to the inkblot word "socialism" depends on an individual's own psychology, environment, political beliefs and understanding of the subject.
"You get a variety of different interpretations based on the knowledge that people have about socialism and communism," said
"Socialism" has become a polarized political word in recent years.
"Americans divide along the lines ideologically, meaning progressives, liberals tend to support aspects of socialism,"
He added: "When it emerges in the campaign, essentially a lot of people don't relate (socialism) to communist countries that have used it for a whole variety of purposes that we would historically not utilize in our own country. It's complicated."
Age and politics
The socialism schism often separates along the lines of political beliefs and age.
A Gallup analysis, released in late 2019, showed that 49% of Millennials and Gen Zers viewed socialism favorably, while 51% held the same opinion about capitalism. Thirty-nine percent of Gen Xers felt positively about socialism with that number dropping to 32% for Baby Boomers and traditionalists.
Overall, the poll found that 39% of Americans had a positive opinion of socialism, while 57% viewed it negatively.
Sanders made strong showings in the 2016 and 2020 Democratic primaries thanks -- in large part -- to the support of younger voters.
She believes that "putting more power and means in the hands of the workers instead of the big guys on top ... would be something else that I think is very important. Minimum wage should be much higher. Workers should earn more for what they're doing in a way to disperse or lessen the concentration of wealth."
Meanwhile, to many
Trump has often attempted to label Biden as a socialist.
"Biden has made a corrupt bargain -- in exchange for his party's nomination, he has handed control to the socialists, and Marxists and left-wing extremists," Trump told his supporters during a recent rally at the
"I think it's gradually been going toward socialism with the
In contrast, Freeman said, "Socialism is associated with communism, which they really are two very different things. In theory, socialism may lead to communism, but it certainly doesn't have to, especially if it's democratic socialism. Our grandparents or parents experienced the Cold War and red scares, and they're terrified of the words 'communism' and 'socialism' without truly understanding what it means. Like mentioning how a big important factor of it is giving workers more power. I think most people who are scared of it don't even really know that aspect of it."
'Handouts' or 'fair shot'?
To Deaver "socialism is putting every citizen on a level playing field, just making sure everybody is provided for" and "giving everybody a fair shot at life and succeeding."
He supports progressive policies, such as a
Deaver sees other nations where socialism programs are in place and thinks they can work in
"I don't know if there's a perfect model," said Deaver, a Democrat who volunteered for Sanders. "But, if it is working in these European countries and
But there are differing opinions even within the Democratic Party.
"It was an eye-opener to really see," Miller said.
He continued: "When you see people like that, when it's truly government-run, that's my interpretation of the word 'socialist.' "
There are some elements of socialism in modern government, according to Miller, pointing to recent financial assistance given to organizations during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including Forest Hills Area Ambulance where he serves as manager.
He said the money helped a lot, since the service saw a large loss of revenue due to fewer calls and restrictions on fundraisers. But, Miller said, "look at all, right now, with COVID, I hate to use the word 'handouts,' but all the grants and everything that are getting everyone through. We've got to make sure we don't get dependent on those."
He believes that would demotivate the recipient.
"Pretty soon, an individual sits back and goes, 'Wow, I don't have to buy property to get property, I don't have to save money to get money,' " Lengenfelder said. "And, all of a sudden, it's easier to sit back, and do nothing, and just wait for somebody else to pass go and collect from them.
"Well, that's one way of looking at socialism."
Lengenfelder considers socialism to be "a pseudo-religion, grounded in pseudo-science and enforced by political tyranny," citing
"What does that mean?" Lengenfelder said. "Of every country that I've been in -- and I've been in a bunch, over 55 nations around the world -- I've never seen what is a purely socialist system be successful. What I have seen are the Venezuelas of the world that promise all sorts of wonderful things and then the leaders, unable to deliver, step back and at least make sure the leadership is taken care of in a country."
That then often leads to the ruler consolidating power, Lengenfelder said.
"You can vote your way into socialism, but I guarantee you will have to fight your way out of it," he said.
Lengenfelder views the systems as the difference between "we the people," capitalistic, individual rights and a "we the state" mentality where the collective what-is-best-for-everybody approach is used. The only nations, in his opinion, that have had any success with socialist or communist policies are the ones with modified systems that include an entrepreneur-driven, capitalist economy. He cited
'Thy neighbors' property'
Some of the strongest resistance to socialism and communism has come from religious groups, most notably when the
"Socialism is theft," Ragley said. "The bottom line of socialism is theft. It violates the Eighth Commandment -- 'thou shall not steal.' And it also violates the Tenth Commandment -- 'thou shall not covet thy neighbors' property.' God says you shall not steal in Exodus 20:15. God enshrined here the sacred right of private property, one of the inalienable rights that the founders recognized as a gift from the creator."
Ragley said he supports a "healthy safety net for people that really need the welfare," but does not like when the programs become too comfortable and expected, likening them to hammocks at that point.
"Hammocks should be outlawed," he said.
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