How socialist would America be if...
January 10, 2021 9:49 PM   Subscribe

How socialist would America be if the composition of the Senate more-or-less reflected the national popular vote?
posted by clawsoon to Law & Government (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You'll need to clarify some. The national vote for president? Then there'd be about 51 Dems and 47 GOP, with two independents. If you mean the national Senate vote, the Republicans actually won that nationally by about 51%-48% in November, albeit only in the 35 seats that were up for election this year. Doing some back-of-the-napkin math based on the national Senate vote in the last three elections, Dems would have roughly 53 senators total.

The bigger question is how you'd translate "socialism" into Senate seats based on any kind of popular vote. People vote for candidates, not ideologies, so you'd need to find a way for socialist candidates to win, even if the Senate were not inherently biased in favor of rural states. Given that socialists are a minority even within the Democratic party, that seems like a pretty tall order.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:33 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

I don't think this is a question that has a straightforward answer.

Yesterday, the Saints scored 3 touchdowns to beat the Bears, who scored a touchdown and a field goal. What would the result have been if touchdowns were worth 3 and field goals 7 points? It wouldn't be as simple as the game playing out the same way with the Bears instead winning 10 points to 9. Both teams would have played the game entirely differently, trying to score in different ways. The entire strategy would be different; the makeup of the teams would change entirely.

How America gets to a Senate that more-or-less reflected the national popular vote would be very important in determining the outcomes. Right now, I think the core problem with the Senate (aside from disproportionate representation) is the high level of partisanship; the greatest risk for most Senators, particularly Republicans, is being primaried from the more extreme wing of their party. Progressives seem to have a much harder time enforcing this fear on their senators; perhaps it's the purity test circular firing squad nature. So there's an incentive for legislators to not compromise right now.

If the Senate more-or-less reflected the national popular vote by being the same structure just with DC and Puerto Rico as states and maybe there only needs to be one Dakota, then a lot of the current problems would still exist. On the other hand, a Senate that was elected off of a completely different system, some sort of proportional representation ranked choice voting for example, might have the Republicans split into a business-first group and a QAnon wing; the Democrats split into a more centrist and more radical Green wing.

The underlying question, I think, is how popular socialist programs would be. Current polling suggests -- at best -- modestly popular. A Universal Basic Income polls at about -10%, about how well Biden did in South Carolina. The ACA is somewhat popular; about 60/40 amongst people who have an opinion. But even this is problematic; for one, there's a lot of noise around policies -- a few years ago, Obamacare was unpopular in a poll of Kentucky by a margin of two to one, while kynect was about equally popular and unpopular -- but kynect is the Obamacare implementation in Kentucky; if the underlying policy was the only thing determining how popular something was, this would not be possible.

But to go one step beyond, I don't know that the popularity of a policy is even fixed in time. The national health care systems in Canada and the UK were controversial when implemented, but are broadly beloved today. Consider gay marriage; it went from minority support to majority relatively quickly, and part of that I think was legalization through the courts making the apocalyptic predictions of opponents look like the overblown fears they were. Cannabis regulation is undergoing a similar thing here in Canada; two years ago before legalization, 30% opposed it, now that's down to 24%[PDF]. Socialist programs that were well implemented and improve people's lives could well become popular (look at Medicare and Social Security, or even at the interstate highway system and road construction in general).
posted by Superilla at 10:53 PM on January 10 [7 favorites]

I think you'll need to define socialist a bit more carefully; do you mean actually socialist or American socialist?

For example, nothing in Superilla's post would be viewed as socialist outside the US. The political left has acres of room before it gets to socialism.
posted by Faff at 12:44 AM on January 11 [13 favorites]

The Democrats only got 7 million more votes than the GOP in the last election. If you went purely by popular votes Democrats would get 52 seats and GOP 48.

So not much would change compared to today, the same dynamics would be still in play.
posted by SweetLiesOfBokonon at 1:53 AM on January 11

Boy, the original poster asked about "Socialism" and most responses went directly and without explanation to discuss numbers of Democrats and Republicans in official positions. That's shocking.

Let's define Socialism. I would offer a definition now but I don't think there is a generally useful and agreed-upon definition. Only with a definition could we come to grips with what specific existing programs or proposed programs were Socialist and to what degree. Meanwhile, would it be better to use a less incendiary term than "Socialist" to debate what government should be doing?

For example, one poster chooses universal childhood education as a Socialist program. May be, but I for one support it whether it's called Socialist or not. Nationwide availability of libraries? Federally enforced rules on drugs and food hygiene? A national system of roadways? Rules to lead to safe air travel? Government support for farming and food production? Et al.
posted by tmdonahue at 5:36 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]

By way of defining socialism, a reasonable way to discuss this might be: How much closer would the US be to having the same "socialist" programs that exist in some European countries like Denmark? Things like universal healthcare, childcare, mostly free higher education, universal paid maternity/paternity, free elder care, etc. etc.

The main thing that's preventing that in the US is not so much the political split in Congress, but the fact that we spend an insane fraction of the national budget on the military. Basically that's the reason we can't have nice things.
posted by beagle at 6:48 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]

The main thing that's preventing that in the US is not so much the political split in Congress, but the fact that we spend an insane fraction of the national budget on the military. Basically that's the reason we can't have nice things.

Meh. I mean this is true, but also people don't think the want them. The evidence suggests that once they get these things they like them, but even in the left leaning party they centrist candidate won. And only about 31% of americans are members of said party. So if you were to swag things you might guess materially less than 1/3rd of Americans support something that looks like the platform of a European Social Democratic party. This isn't to say that once enacted those policies wouldn't be wildly popular. Actual Socialism with Nationalization of industry and real wealth redistribution is likely to be even less popular at a national level.
posted by JPD at 7:10 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

Also how you phrase things matters a lot for this question. A majority of Americans favor a "National Healthcare Plan" but <50% of Americans favor "Single-Payer" - why I have no idea.
posted by JPD at 7:13 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]

Some issues that affect the makeup of the Senate and House: There are low-population states and high-population states; each state gets 2 Senators, so it's lopsided. This is not accidental, creation of new states has been highly political.
Gerrymandering is a highly political way to favor one party over another, affecting the makeup of the House. Check out Jim Jordan's Ohio district, appalling.
Vote Suppression is a popular and effective way to tip the balance in elections - making it quite difficult to register, purging voting rolls often, aggressively, closing polling places, restricting polling times, making it harder to vite absentee/ by mail. These are just a few ways the votes of particular constituencies are suppressed. It is most effective against people who have lower incomes, may not have cars or access to good transportation, etc.

I don't have cites, sorry, but have read that the Congress is a poor reflection of the population based on surveys of what people, not just successful voters, really want. Stacey Abrams' organization may be helpful in researching this. She should have been elected Gov. of Georgia, voter suppression allowed Kemp to steal it.
posted by theora55 at 7:35 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

You’ll need to clarify a lot. And even then I’m not sure how well the question could be answered.

It partly depends on what you mean by socialism. One definition:

The Socialist Party of Great Britain and the World Socialist Movement define socialism in its classical formulation as a "system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the community." Additionally, they include classlessness, statelessness and the abolition of wage labour as characteristics of a socialist society, characterising it as a stateless, propertyless, post-monetary economy based on calculation in kind, a free association of producers, workplace democracy and free access to goods and services produced solely for use and not for exchange.

Going by that I expect the answer would be “hardly at all socialist”.

Or maybe you mean a less extreme variant that doesn’t necessarily require the replacement of capitalism, like democratic socialism? Or social democracy? Libertarian socialism? etc. Or some other variant?

Assuming you can decide on which “socialism”, you’d then need candidates that had that as a platform. Then they’d need to qualify to stand in every constituency (in which elections?). And only then would you have a number for the popular vote.

But another wrinkle would be that that number wouldn’t necessarily reflect what people really want. Because, assuming these candidates weren’t standing for one of the two main parties (!), a lot of voters who supported the platform wouldn’t cast their vote that way in a first past the post voting system because it would seem like a “wasted vote” and they’d rather vote for the wishy washy non-socialist Democratic, rather than risk the Republican getting in. So the popular vote count for this socialism would be less than the number of people who’d actually want socialism.
posted by fabius at 5:39 AM on January 12

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