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A recent poll of self-identified Republicans showed a large majority— 63 percent —believe that President Obama is a “socialist.” I always cringe when I hear people throw around the “s” word since it seems to be used more as an insult than as an intentionally descriptive label (although when I hear the words “General Motors” I realize they have a point.)

An even more recent poll by Gallup, however, shows that many Democrats may not consider the term to be derogatory :

Socialism had the lowest percentage positive rating and the highest negative rating of any term tested. Still, more than a third of Americans say they have a positive image of socialism.

Exactly how Americans define “socialism” or what exactly they think of when they hear the word is not known. The research simply measures Americans’ reactions when a survey interviewer reads the word to them — an exercise that helps shed light on connotations associated with this frequently used term.

There are significant differences in reactions to “socialism” across ideological and partisan groups:

  • A majority of 53% of Democrats have a positive image of socialism, compared to 17% of Republicans.

  • Sixty-one percent of liberals say their image of socialism is positive, compared to 39% of moderates and 20% of conservatives.

I suspect that many democrats are unclear on what they mean by socialism. Most are probably associating the term with New Deal/Great Society-style welfare statism. A few, however, may actually be social democrats while a smaller minority are full-fledged democratic socialists .

How would you define socialism? Do you have, or know people that have,  a positive impression of the term?

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