8

A major component of Republican political messaging in the last few election cycles has been trying to tie their opponents to socialism or communism, with their target audience particularly being immigrants that have left socialist countries and their families. This argument can be seen, for example, in advertisements tying Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and by extension the rest of the party, to socialist countries. Of course, while the Democratic Party has indeed become more progessive in recent years, much of this movement has been on social issues. The party's economic policy has become only modestly more left-wing, and it has not expressed its institutional support for any major socialist priorities such as nationalization of any industry. Of note, the only self-identified democratic socialist candidate, Bernie Sanders, lost two successive Democratic Party primaries, and even the second one by a significant margin. The current US president, Joe Biden, is considered economically moderate.

Despite all that, the Republican messaging strategy seems to have been reasonably effective. For instance, in the 2020 election, Donald Trump won a high percentage of Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American voters, even increasing his vote share. This success, and strong Republican support among these groups more generally, is often attributed to Republicans successfully painting Democrats as socialist or sympathetic to socialism. Anecdotally, I have also seen this messaging resonate with some Russian Americans whose families left the Soviet Union.

On the one hand, one would expect these voters to have a better idea of what socialism is, on average, than most other Americans; on the other hand, the Democratic Party is far from being socialist or communist. In fact, even the few self-declared socialists in the party would likely be classified as right-wing by the standards of e.g. Venezuela or Cuba. 1 Similarly, some popular opposition figures in such countries would be considered rather left-wing by US standards. 2 So then, what accounts for the apparent effectiveness of Republican messaging around socialism among immigrants from socialist or formerly socialist countries?

1: For instance, even Bernie did not call for nationalizing energy production, in the sense of expropriation of existing utilities, but rather for creating a government competitor, like the Postal Service. This is far-left for Republicans but would be considered lukewarm by the standards of most socialist countries.

2: For example, Juan Guiadó who enjoys or enjoyed significant popularity both in Venezuela and among the diaspora as the leader of the opposition to Nicolás Maduro, belonged to a party that was a member of the Socialist International, and has proposed such radical measures as removing the requirement for the state oil company to have majority ownership of any private venture (but not, say, denationalizing it).

12
  • 1
    I think it is obvious that Ocasio-Cortez, a literal Democratic Party representative, is not the target of those advertisements. Those are an example of advertisements that try to to tie Democrats to socialist, or supposedly social countries, by associating one of their politicians with them. Although some people, Ocasio-Cortez included, argue that particular advertisement was targeted more at White non-immigrant voters, it certainly fits the pattern of other, more obviously targeted advertisements.
    – Obie 2.0
    Mar 6 at 22:59
  • 2
    @user4556274 - I finally understood your comment. You interpreted "target" as "the people the advertisements are criticizing" as opposed to the target audience and thought I was saying that Ocasio-Cortez was an immigrant who had left a socialist country, which would indeed be odd, since the US is not a socialist country and being born is not immigrating. I think the context makes it obvious, since the rest of the answer talks about immigrants as the targets audience of the messenging, not the people the messenging is trying to smear, but just in case I rewrote the first sentence.
    – Obie 2.0
    Mar 6 at 23:18
  • 1
    @Obie 2.0: I wonder what fraction of the public actually thinks of Ocasio-Cortez as Latina?
    – jamesqf
    Mar 6 at 23:35
  • 2
  • 1
    Related question about Jews from the Soviet Union: politics.stackexchange.com/q/27984/270 Mar 7 at 2:03
12

I think you are coming at it from the wrong angle. The Cuban and Venezuelan vote did not go against the Democrats because those people were somehow fooled about Democratic domestic policy being unduly Communist. That, as you correctly remark, would be odd, given their acquaintance with Communism in practice.

No, the Democrats and the Republicans got respectively punished and rewarded for their foreign policy towards Cuba and Venezuela.

Obama had somewhat of a thaw, by US standards, towards Cuba. Which Trump promptly rolled back when he got elected.

During the 2002 coup against Chavez, the US, under Bush, was not all that clearly against the coup at the start.

However, unlike much of Latin America, the US refused to condemn the coup, changing its position only after a popular uprising led Carmona to resign.

But the clearest indication of a vote pattern influenced by US foreign policy came from the Elian Gonzalez saga. Citing The Atlantic:

Approved by the Clinton Administration's Justice Department, the raid on April 22, 2000, to take custody of Elián González was emotional and dramatic—and so was its impact on Cuban-American voters. In the view of Miami-based pollster Sergio Bendixen, "It was humiliating to Cuban-Americans, and the 2000 election was payback."

They called it el voto castigo, or "the punishment vote." Whom did Cuban-American voters punish? Democratic nominee Al Gore and his fellow Democrats. "The Democrats first lost tremendous support among Cuban-Americans in the 1960s because of the Bay of Pigs," Bendixen noted. "But since the middle 1980s, the Democratic Party had been gaining with Cuban-American voters, from the teens [in terms of percentage of the Cuban-American vote] to the low 20s to the mid-30s. The Elián González saga reversed that pattern in a dramatic way."

Bendixen estimates that President Clinton got 35 percent of the Cuban-American vote in Florida in 1996. In 2000, Gore drew less than 20 percent. Look at the vote in Hialeah, Fla., a predominantly Cuban-American suburb of Miami. In 1996, Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole outpolled Clinton in Hialeah by about 10,000 votes. In 2000, George W. Bush got nearly 25,000 more votes than Gore.

It seems to me those voters will steadfastly reward US politicians for their hostility towards Cuba and Venezuela's current Communist governments. Actual signs of domestic US drift towards socialism, let alone Communism, which are rather limited across both parties, as the question correctly hypothesized, matter much less.

In as far as they matter, not concerning either Cuba or Venezuela, Trump's hostility towards nominally-Communist China probably counterbalanced his buddy-buddy relationship with totalitarian-but-not-Communist Russia.

4
  • This directly answers the question, at least with respect to Cuban-Americans. I had almost forgotten the Elian Gonzalez incident. Cuban-Americans? Probably not forgotten. What about Venezuelan-Americans, also mentioned in the question? What about Cambodian-Americans, Vietnamese-Americans, and Hmong-Americans? All three of those Southeast Asian communities vote rather differently than do other Asian Americans, who tend to strongly favor Democrats; the three groups I mentioned are not quite Republican voters, but they are much closer to being Republican voters than are other Asian Americans. Mar 7 at 19:29
  • 2
    FWIW, I have immigrant relatives who were fiercely anti-communist Cold War refugees who supported the GOP for that reason for many years, but left it as it became pervasively anti-immigrant, tolerant of racism, and anti-science. I'm not convinced that the premise of the question is correct. Certainly immigrants from regions which are Democratic Socialist rather than Communist tend to favor Democrats when they become naturalized citizens.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 11 at 4:07
  • @ohwilleke to be honest, I think Venezuelans and Cubans are somewhat bit outliers in this regard. Probably related to both of those countries still operating under Communism and additionally seeing a supposedly different foreign policy choice from Reps to Dems. I also can't resist remarking that the GOP, under Trump, has had an entirely more benign view of Russia than in the past, so at least for East Euros, there is little to recommend supporting the GOP from a foreign policy POV. Chinese immigrants may not like the CCP, but at least had no literal minefields to run thru to leave either. Mar 11 at 5:05
  • 2
    Chinese immigrants are ... complicated (i read a bit of research on the topic answering unrelated question on SE). A lot of them immigrated for reasons NOT having to do with opposing CCP, they are a lot more different from each other than say Cuban or Venezuelian emigres
    – user4012
    Mar 25 at 14:24
7

What is socialist, really?

The label socialist has been used so long, and for so different policies, that one would have to state the context to make it meaningful:

  • Socialism as a precursor to communism in Marxist theory, and hence as a label for Communist regimes which acknowledged that they had not yet reached the end state of history. Hence the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
  • Socialism as the common ideology of European mostly-center-left parties which favor public health systems, heavily subsidized public education, welfare for those who cannot earn a living, and so on. Hence the Party of European Socialists (PES).
  • Then there are various authoritarian regimes which used the label socialist as window-dressing for their non-socialist policies. Is the PRC socialist in the sense that they're working towards Communism?
  • Finally, in US political discourse, it can describe anyone to the left of the speaker. Or anyone the speaker dislikes.

Someone who had left a socialist country in the first or third meaning would probably not want to get Socialism back. Somebody who left a socialist country in the second meaning is probably less disgusted -- yes, there were high taxes, and yes, there was red tape, but generally it was a free and democratic society.

That makes targeted advertising aimed at voters e.g. with Cuban roots effective. If Biden wants socialist policies in the second meaning, tell those disposed to dislike socialist policies in the first meaning that they're socialist, without adding the necessary qualifiers and explanations.

7
  • 3
    This does not answer the question, which is why Republicans do so well with immigrants from current or former socialist countries. Mar 7 at 17:26
  • @DavidHammen, I thought the question was why a specific theme was used in campaign ads, not why people voted the way they voted.
    – o.m.
    Mar 7 at 18:50
  • The last sentence of the body of the question, before the footnotes, asks, emphasis mine, "So then, what accounts for the apparent effectiveness of Republican messaging around socialism among immigrants from socialist or formerly socialist countries?" Mar 7 at 18:54
  • 1
    @DavidHammen, I think that's answered in the penultimate and ultimate paragraph of my posting. Many people who left a socialist country (in the sense of the first bullet point) do not like socialism (in the sense of the first bullet point), so displaying any policy as socialism (in the sense of the first bullet point) becomes an effective attack ad.
    – o.m.
    Mar 7 at 19:08
  • 1
    @DavidHammen I think it’s pretty clear. Cuba and Venezuela are socialist in the first and third senses. So if a candidate who is socialist in the second sense describes them selves or is described as “socialist”, immigrants from those countries are likely to assume they’re socialist in the sense they’re used to: ie, authoritarian and/or a precursor to full communism
    – divibisan
    Mar 7 at 19:42
4

Isn't it because those immigrants didn't like socialism and therefore like anti-socialist messages. That's why they went to the USA in the first place: to escape socialism.

As per @bytebuster's request, here's a "credible" source:

This WP article has an explanation for what I assume to be the general view immigrants have about it.

Like my sister, Nelson Diaz, the chairman of the Republican Party of Miami-Dade County, is ringing the warning alarms. “I’m not saying if in 2020 Biden wins we will have a communist dictatorship,” Diaz cautions. “But we will drift ever closer to socialism, and that tipping point will come quickly.” Biden’s socialist coup will begin, he explains, with the Internal Revenue Service: “They would take our businesses through an ever-increasing number of taxes.”

3
  • Welcome to Politics! This post would benefit from adding further details. Being a one-line post, it may attract downvotes and criticism. Please edit it to add further relevant information — preferably with references to credible sources.
    – bytebuster
    Mar 11 at 2:57
  • Nelson Diaz, the chairman of the Republican Party that's citing those very claims that the OP is asking about. Mar 11 at 5:21
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica - The author of the WP article did point out that her sister held similar beliefs as Nelson Diaz. Mar 11 at 5:35
2

Uprooting yourself from a country and moving to another country is a huge step. Most people who move from Cuba or Venezuela to the US do so because they have some serious problem with their life at home. If they don't directly have a problem with the government, for example a political problem, they may blame the government for whatever problem they do have, for example an economic problem. In other words, immigrants from those countries are at least likely to be predisposed against the regime. Often, they oppose it strenuously.

I know several people who grew up in communist/socialist countries, and some of them are strongly left wing. But others are strongly right wing, and the main reason for that is generally because of their opposition to the government under which they grew up. Yes, such people are in a better position to recognize that current Democratic party policy is nothing like that of the country they grew up in, but that doesn't mean that they can't fear that the Democrats would move the US in that direction to a degree that they find unwelcome.

In short, the Cubans and Venezuelans in the US are not likely to be representative of Cubans and Venezuelans in Cuba or Venezuela. Rather, those groups are likely to have a rather higher proportion of anti-socialists and anti-communists. With that in mind, it is not surprising that the Republicans' painting their Democratic opponents as socialists resonates with these voters.

-1

According to Edward Herman & Noam Chomsky's Manufacture of Consent, it's effective simply because very little else is given serious air time in the USA. This means that the parameters of debate is heavily policed, with perhaps the occasional leftish documentary given airtime, to show that the virtues of 'free speech' is being upheld.

The success of Bernie Sanders has shown that socialism is no longer a poisoned chalice in the USA and I think it foreshadows a much broader seachange in opinion there with a much broader canvas of policies being looked at. It also shows that the indoctrination and propaganda machine of neoliberalism is beginning to break down.

I have only heard anecdotal evidence that Cuban-Americans have, on average, voted for Republicans. Not everyone in Cuba was sold on socialism. It's likely that many fled to the USA after the success of the Castro-led Cuban revolution and right into the arms of the Republican party.

6
  • 4
    I don't think this responds to the question much. Obviously, Democratic advertisements get airtime as well, so the hypothesis that there is no competition for Republicans alleging that Democrats are socialist seems to be untrue. As for only having heard anecdotal evidence, it is a well-studied phenomenon supported by a lot of pre-election and post-election polling. We know most Cuban Americans voted for Trump with more or less as much certainty as we know that most Latinos vote Democrat.
    – Obie 2.0
    Mar 8 at 6:26
  • @Obie 2.0: I'm pointing to the wider phenomenon that socialism per se doesn't get much radio or air time as being the determining factor here. The Republicans having alleged Democrats to be socialist shows that the term socialism as a word that shuts down all debate still has currency in the USA. But this does not explain the success of Bernie Sanders campaign. My personal thinking on this is that it augers a sea-change in public opinion which will eventially be reflected in elite discourse. Mar 8 at 7:33
  • 2
    The argument that accusations of socialism are effective because Americans are ceaselessly told that it is immoral may be true, but it does not do much to explain why precisely those voters who should have the best idea of what socialism actually entails (immigrants from socialist countries) seem to be equally receptive to such arguments, if not more so.
    – Obie 2.0
    Mar 8 at 7:34
  • @Obie 2.0: I answer that in the last paragraph where I point out that those fleeing a regime that they don't like are not the best judges of what that regime entails. To focus simply on what they have to say gives a very one-sided picture. The depredations of US policy on Latin America are well-known. Mar 8 at 7:38
  • 1
    Communism <> Socialism and the bits of this answer equating Sanders with the kleoptocratic, calamitous, violent and incompetent leadership of Chavez and Maduro is quite unfair to Sanders. On top, it doesn't answer the question why the people best to know would be those most fooled, it's just a bad-USA, good-Communism blurb. only heard anecdotal evidence? There's plenty such evidence, starting with the unexpectedly bad showing of Biden in Florida Nov 3rd. -1 Mar 8 at 19:00

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .