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C. Eugene Emery Jr.
By C. Eugene Emery Jr. January 29, 2016

Jennifer Granholm says Americans would rather elect an atheist than a socialist

Is Democrat Bernie Sanders going to suffer in the polls because he calls himself a socialist?

Jennifer Granholm, the former Democratic governor of Michigan and a Hillary Clinton backer, thinks so.

During the Jan. 24 edition of ABC's This Week, she said "the word socialist is a really hard word" for voters.

"Now, I love Bernie Sanders, really, I appreciate the fact that he's bringing out young people. But when you look at that word ‘socialist,’ the Gallup poll did an analysis of what are the characteristics that people would vote for in a president. 'Would you vote for a Mormon?' 'Would you vote for a Jew?' 'Would you vote for a Catholic?' When they get to the question on would you vote for an atheist, it is -- or, excuse me, a socialist, it is even less popular than voting for atheists," Granholm said. "That is why it's an issue."

Because the polls say that Sanders is giving Clinton a run for her money, we wondered whether calling yourself a socialist really carries the type of stigma that Granholm described.

We contacted Granholm's office but didn't hear back.

The Gallup poll in question is a survey of 1,527 adults in June 2015.

The survey found 47 percent of respondents would vote for a socialist presidential candidate nominated by their party even if the candidate was "generally well-qualified." Fifty percent would not.

An atheist candidate would be tolerable to only 58 percent, with 40 percent saying they would not vote for any atheist candidate. Here's the list:

Willingness to vote for a qualified candidate who is . . .

a Catholic

93%

Jewish

91%

a Muslim

60%

a woman

92%

a Mormon

81%

an atheist

58%

black

92%

gay or lesbian

74%

a socialist

47%

Hispanic

91%

an evangelical Christian

73%

Survey taken June 2-7, 2015

In a similar vein, a 2010 Fox News survey found that while only 39 percent of Americans would be comfortable with having an atheist on the Supreme Court, support for a socialist was even lower — 31 percent.

Yet if Americans have such antipathy to socialists, why is Sanders, a self-declared socialist, doing so well?

For one thing, Sanders makes it clear that he's not a socialist in the old Soviet Union sense. He often calls himself a democratic socialist who talks about the type of socialism seen in the Scandinavian countries, where the political system is democratic. His socialism is often in line with what would be considered strong liberal beliefs. PolitiFact explored the issue in detail in August 2015.

Scott Clifford, a political scientist as the University of Houston, said it's important to remember that each person surveyed was "asked not about support for atheists/socialists in general, but in the context of their own party nominating one."

So Democrats will be more open to socialist ideas because the party tends to be liberal, "home to secular Americans," he said.

The Republican Party tends to be home to more evangelicals and other religious traditionalists, Clifford said by email, so Republicans would be naturally wary of a nominee who is a socialist.

"After all, a Republican socialist is effectively an oxymoron in modern American politics," he said.

That was clear when Gallup broke the results into party lines.

Willingness to vote for

Democrats

Republicans

Difference

An evangelical Christian

66%

84%

18 points

An atheist

64%

45%

19 points

A gay or lesbian

85%

61%

24 points

A Muslim

73%

45%

28 points

A socialist

59%

26%

33 points

John Geer, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University, said there are a lot of misunderstandings about the term socialist, "so the survey questions you have in Gallup are probably not very indicative of the amount of support socialists might have."

The term "socialist" may lose some of its sting because Sanders offers it as a solution to voters’ concerns, such as income inequality, he said.

He is also highlighting the idea that other industrialized countries that have embraced socialism are doing better on matters such as health care, "and people are giving him high marks for dealing with the (socialist) question directly and not trying to hedge," Geer said.

Whether Sanders can change the country's aversion to actually voting for a socialist remains to be seen.

Our ruling

Granholm said a Gallup survey found that the idea of voting for a socialist for president is even less popular than voting for an atheist.

That's precisely what was found in the poll, the first time Gallup has asked about socialist presidential candidates. We rate the claim as True.

Our Sources

ABC News, "'This Week' Transcript: Jeb Bush and Sen. Bernie Sanders," Jan. 24, 2016, accessed Jan. 25, 2016

Gallup.com, "In U.S., Socialist Presidential Candidates Least Appealing," June 22, 2015 and "Gallup News Service; June Wave 1; Final topline," accessed Jan. 25, 2016

PolitiFact, "Bernie Sanders - socialist or democratic socialist?" Aug. 26, 2015

Emails, Scott Clifford, political science department, University of Houston, Jan. 25, 2016

FoxNews.com, "Fox News Poll; Opinion Dynamics," April 28, 2016, accessed Jan. 26, 2016

Interview, John Geer, political science department, Vanderbilt University, Jan. 26, 2016

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Jennifer Granholm says Americans would rather elect an atheist than a socialist

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