Voters largely favor capitalism over socialism amid Sanders' rise in 2020 primary

Key Points
  • More than half of voters have a positive view of capitalism, while a majority of voters have a negative perception of socialism, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found. 
  • The 2020 election has in part become a question of how much to revamp the U.S. economic system. 
  • It is unclear whether views of socialism will hurt self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, who leads Trump in a hypothetical matchup in the same survey.
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at a campaign stop in Hooksett, New Hampshire, September 30, 2019.
Brian Snyder | Reuters

Most voters view capitalism better than socialism as debates over how much to revamp the U.S. economic system help shape the 2020 presidential election, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday.

Still, it is unclear whether voters' views on the economic and political systems will affect the race — or hurt Sen. Bernie Sanders, a leading presidential candidate who identifies as a democratic socialist.

More than half of registered voters, or 52%, have a positive view of capitalism, the survey found. Meanwhile, 18% have a negative perception.

At the same time, only 19% of voters have a positive view of socialism. A majority, 53%, have a negative perception.

The numbers reinforce why President Donald Trump has — inaccurately — painted all of his potential Democratic opponents in the 2020 election as socialists. It's a message the president and his allies could deploy even more often as Sanders rises in national Democratic primary polls and appears to have a good chance of winning multiple early presidential nominating contests.

Sanders' brand of democratic socialism involves a push for a single-payer "Medicare for All" health care system, higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations to expand the social safety net and stronger labor rights to protect workers from the abuses of employers. While his proposals would dramatically boost the federal government, they do not call for the type of public ownership of capital or companies typically associated with socialism.

Even so, some of Sanders' rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination have called his plans to overhaul the U.S. economic system too dramatic. Candidates such as former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg have called for more gradual policy changes.

The NBC/WSJ survey does not include any questions about how much voters tie Sanders to socialism. Even so, any association may not hurt him in a hypothetical contest against Trump.

Sanders leads Trump by a 49% to 45% margin in a potential general election matchup, the poll found.

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