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How 'socialism' plays poorly with the middle of the electorate

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and his wife Jane O'Meara Sanders acknowledge the crowd
Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife Jane O'Meara Sanders acknowledge the crowd has he arrives to one of his first campaign events in Chicago on March 3, 2019.Joshua Lott / Reuters

WASHINGTON — The latest NBC/WSJ poll shows that Democrats are still winning over independents and the middle of the electorate in the Trump Era.

But there’s one exception: when the conversation turns to socialism — with just nine percent of independents and 13 percent of moderates viewing the term favorably in the poll. That’s compared with a plurality of indies (by 40 percent to 23 percent) and a majority of moderates (51 percent to 19 percent) viewing “capitalism” positively.

What’s more, the MOST UNPOPULAR candidate quality in the NBC/WSJ poll — more unpopular than being a Muslim or being over the age of 75 — is being a socialist, with 74 percent of independents and 74 percent of moderates either very uncomfortable or having reservations with that quality.

Bernie Sanders and his defenders explain that when he discusses how he’s a socialist — a democratic socialist — he refers to his support for making health-care coverage and higher education basic rights, like how Scandinavian countries do.

And the NBC/WSJ poll shows Americans want a more active government, with 55 percent of all adults (and 54 percent of indies) believing the government should do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people.

Also, 50 percent of Americans, including 55 percent of independents, say they’re willing to pay more in taxes so everyone can have health insurance.

So the public supports more government intervention and higher taxes. But it sees “socialism” going too far.

And it’s worth asking: Were the polls from 2016 showing Sanders performing better than Hillary Clinton in hypothetical general-election matchups because he was the stronger candidate Democrats could have offered? Or because the GOP didn’t fire all of its guns on “socialism” — like it already is for 2020?

GOP isn’t in the mainstream on key social issues

But if the word “socialism” is a problem for Democrats, Republicans might have an even bigger vulnerability when it comes to key social issues like abortion, health care, immigration and climate change.

A majority of Americans say the GOP is OUTSIDE of the mainstream on those issues, as one of us writes. That includes a majority of independents saying this about the GOP on abortion, health care and climate change.

Conversely, a majority of respondents say Democrats are INSIDE the mainstream on those issues, although the Dem margin on abortion is down from 2015.

The one issue that’s a jump ball between the parties on whether they’re inside or outside the mainstream: fiscal issues, such as taxes and spending.

Tweet of the day

Rand Paul to vote against Trump’s emergency declaration

Speaking of immigration, the new NBC/WSJ poll finds 60 percent of Americans disapproving of President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build his border wall.

And one of those Americans is Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who announced over the weekend that he would support the resolution reversing Trump’s emergency declaration.

“I support President Trump. I supported his fight to get funding for the wall from Republicans and Democrats alike, and I share his view that we need more and better border security,” Paul wrote. “However, I cannot support the use of emergency powers to get more funding, so I will be voting to disapprove of his declaration when it comes before the Senate.”

And with Paul’s yes, there now appears to be a majority for the resolution in the Senate, although it wouldn’t be enough to overturn a presidential veto.

2020 Vision: Hick(enlooper), yeah

NBC’s Ali Vitali writes about the 12th major Democrat to announce a presidential bid or file presidential paperwork for 2020: former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“‘In a video released Monday morning, Hickenlooper says his campaign would center on taking action on key issues like guns and climate change, but also in ‘repairing the damage done to our country.’ In a voiceover over footage of Trump, he says, ‘I'm running for president because we're facing a crisis that threatens everything we stand for.’”

On the trail today

Pete Buttigieg stumps in Iowa… And Julian Castro is in Los Angeles.

Data Download: Who’s the real “liar, liar, pants on fire” in the Russia probe?

A final set of numbers from our NBC/WSJ poll: Just 37 percent of Americans agree with the statement that President Trump has been honest and truthful when it comes to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, while 58 percent disagree.

The breakdown by party: 75 percent of Republican respondents believe Trump has been honest and truthful, versus 27 percent of independents and 6 percent of Democrats.

The Lid: You used to call me on your landline

Don’t miss the pod from Friday, in which we took a look at the news that the Pew Research Center’s telephone poll response rate is down to just six percent.

ICYMI: The blame game

Trump now appears to be blaming Michael Cohen’s testimony for the breakdown of negotiations with North Korea.

Benjy Sarlin writes on how Democratic contenders are proposing plans for every stage of life —and how the GOP is branding that as socialism.

NBC’s Mike Memoli and Geoff Bennett report on how Democrats are eyeing the GOP playbook when it comes to Justice Department requests.

Jerry Nadler says he’s requesting documents from more than 60 people connected to Trump and his administration.

Justin Amash isn’t ruling out a run as a libertarian.

Other news today you shouldn’t miss…

Trump agenda: It’s the economy…

Intelligence chiefs are briefing Trump on economics and trade rather than traditional espionage and terror topics.

Kirstjen Nielsen is hanging on to her job after a bumpy patch with her boss.

John Bolton said of his view on Kim Jong Un and Otto Warmbier: “My opinion doesn’t matter.”

Dem agenda: Liking the odds in NC-9

Democrats think they have a strong shot of winning in the NC-9 do-over election.

Senate Democrats say they’ll “go on offense” on climate change.

2020: Keystone State concerns

Pennsylvania Democrats are getting nervous about the party’s leftward movement.

POLITICO asks: “Just what does Beto believe?”

Bill Clinton has advice for 2020 candidates. But not all of them are looking for it.