Poll: 55% of Likely Voters Think Obama Is a Socialist

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This new poll from James Carville's Democracy Corps firm is bad, bad news for Obama, incumbent Democrats, and the White House's economic message. If you're a Republican, be happy for the midterms.

First, when asked if they thought the president was a socialist, 55 percent of likely voters said yes. Only 39 percent said no. Oh god.

For the record, if Obama's trying to be a socialist, he's doing a terrible job! He's cut taxes for small businesses and increased government spending mostly to replace lost income and state revenue. Financial reform is less like a straitjacket for banks and more like a tight sweater whose dimensions and fit will be determined by future studies.

But the definition of socialist in politics is about as liquid and malleable the term moderate. It means whatever the user wants it to mean at the moment of its usage. The more concerning part of the survey is below, where respondents were asked which jobs strategy they preferred:

"The best way to improve our economy and create jobs is to invest more to put people to work, develop new industries, and help businesses grow in expanding, new areas."

OR

"The best way to improve our economy and create jobs is to cut government spending and cut taxes so businesses can prosper and the private sector can start creating jobs."

FIRST STATEMENT: 43

SECOND STATEMENT: 50

There are a couple points to make here.

First, since this is Carville's poll, I'm a little surprised that he put tax cuts in the second sentence but not the first, since tax cuts did account for more than a third of the spent stimulus, and payroll taxes are official nil for all 2010 hires. If you want to make Democratic policies sell, then you should try to sell them. It's the tax cuts, stupid!

Second, as a matter of logic, it's easy to explain to public's distaste for more government spending. Follow this narrative: Obama assumed office, the stimulus passed, and unemployment rose above 10 percent. It's not hard to interpret proximity as causation, and I think most Americans are doing just that.

Third, this is just great news for Republicans. The first sentence included classic Democratic terms like invest and new and new (again!). The second sentence is unvarnished, boilerplate conservative messaging and half the country is eating it up, even after hearing the alternative.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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