Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.― John Steinbeck, American author
There is an incredible amount of truth in Steinback's statement, both in our history and our politics today.
Throughout American history, the belief in a better tomorrow, the American Dream, has been an essential part of our collective thought processes and even cultural ideologies.
But then we see the rumblings of a new populist strategy from the Democrats for 2016, and it makes us pause and think. Is this new political strategy a reaction or just capitalizing on current political fads?
In 1986, the Wall Street Journal did the first ever in-depth poll on the American Dream -- and the results shocked them. They were expecting an America with a dismal view of the future, but instead found that the American Dream was alive and well, and that people still believed that they had more than ample opportunity to advance in social and economic class.
In 1986, obtaining a high school education with some college or job training, owning a home, and having enough resources to raise a family in a lifestyle better than the previous generation were the foundations of what Americans saw as "living the good life."
In Dec 2014, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) conducted a meta-analysis on all of the polling data available on the American Dream in the past 30 years since in WSJ's first study.
Once again, to the surprise of the researchers, the American Dream is alive and well, but with some definite changes in beliefs and structure of that dream.
The single-biggest thing that has changed in the last 30 years is how we define success -- and most importantly, whether or not we see this as achievable or equitable.
In 1986, 60 percent of the respondents thought it was possible to start out poor in life and become rich. Today, that number hovers around 10 percent.
Money, for most, is no longer the yardstick of success and the American Dream.
Hard Work and Education, Still the Driving Factors
Americans, in general, believe that a combination of education and hard work is the most significant factor for financial success.
This has increased over the past 30 years, with a growing number of respondents stating that it takes at least a Master's degree to become economically viable.
Most polls still put hard work as the leading contributor, yet some place them on par with each other.
The real worry, however, comes from what people have to do to get this education. Student loan balances are through the roof, education costs continue to skyrocket, and many live in constant fear of defaulting on the loans they took out to help ensure their financial security.
This has become one of the overriding definitions of what it means to be successful in America today -- to be healthy and enjoy the benefits of long-life and good health.This shouldn't come as a surprise; as the population ages, health concerns take a greater emphasis in our daily living and thought process.
This wasn't even considered as a possible question in 1986, as medical advances were still limited and the field of gerontology was still underdeveloped. However, the explosion of medical knowledge over the past 30 years has made it so that long-life is a practical reality for most people.
But with that long life comes an incredible price tag: Half of all seniors will die broke, as medical bills eat up their estates in their final years.
This is a real worry to middle-aged and senior Americans -- the reality of a long life, yet financial ruination.
Being Free to Be Myself
To a growing number of Americans, this is the definition of the American Dream.
America has changed significantly over the past 100 years. From full-fledged institutionalized discrimination to the institutional sanction of gay marriage, the ability to live as you choose is at an all-time high.
In some of the most recent analyzed polls, "Being Free to Be Myself" ranked higher than wealth in importance to the American Dream.
This, of course, is not without its drawbacks or cost on society. There has to be limits on freedom -- most importantly, ones freedoms ends where they subjugate another's.
Social Safety Net
With these changes in the views on the American Dream, it's easy to see why the populist strategy of the far-left has gained steam.
In particular, on the most important categories, it is the social safety net that both protects and ensures an ability to enjoy a piece of the "good-life."
Americans aren't living in the culture of greed of the 1980s any longer. We want to work hard, become educated, be healthy, and be free to express ourselves. But to do those things in 2015, many believe that they are going to need a little help from the government on leveling the playing field.
These new populist strategies weren't concocted out of thin air, but they are a response to the growing desire among many to have the basic tools of success and the American Dream open to all.
The real test will be in measuring personal beliefs on the American Dream with voting patterns at the ballot box, and see if this is truly a viable strategy for winning a national election.