Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Bernie Sanders & Democratic Socialism

Credit: Johnny Cather, TSPR
Bernie Sanders is pursuing the democratic presidential nomination on a democratic socialist platform.

Former U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) is in the running for the Democratic presidential nomination, but he has labeled himself as a democratic socialist.  Some potential voters have found that label confusing.

Credit WIU
Dr. Casey LaFrance is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Western Illinois University.

Dr. Casey LaFrance, Associate Professor of Political Science at Western Illinois University,  said democratic socialism is often incorrectly equated to communism.

“We still have some examples [of communism] in the world. For instance, in North Korea. They have a completely totalitarian communist system. And when people think of socialism, that might be what comes to mind,” LaFrance said.

So if democratic socialism isn’t the same as communism, then what exactly is it? LaFrance said it's really not that different from our current democratic system.

“First off, we talk about ourselves as being a democracy. We’re not, in fact, a democracy. We’re a democratic republic. We elect our representatives, by and large, for most of the legislative tasks and heavy lifting," LaFrance said.

"So, I think to transition from a democratic republic to a democratic socialist republic really wouldn’t change much."

He added the real difference would be in regards to economic ownership.

“In a democratic socialist system, the government tends to own more of the means of production and actively works to redistribute wealth to a greater degree than, maybe, what we see here in America,” LaFrance said.

That doesn’t mean the U.S. is completely free of all social programs right now. Quite the contrary; LaFrance said more than 66% of the nation's federal budget goes to funding entitlement programs such as  Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. 

Credit Mettler and Koch, Cornell University
25% of people who use food stamps say they have never used a government social program.

In fact, these programs are so common and heavily utilized that many Americans might not even realize they’re using them.

“In support of that, there’s a poll by Mettler and Koch at Cornell University asking respondents, ‘Do you benefit from a government social program?’ 25% of people who receive food stamps say, ‘I have never used a government social program.’ 27% of people who receive welfare benefits say the same thing,” LaFrance said.

Bernie Sanders also addressed the true meaning of democratic socialism in this Time Magazine interview last month.

Credit RealClear Politics
The full presidential poll results as of 12/6/15.

Sanders currently trails Hillary Clinton in the polls for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, 58.3% to 31.5%.