EXCLUSIVE: Democratic Socialism not as popular as advertised

Rumors of democratic socialism’s ascendancy have been greatly exaggerated, according to the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

Campus Reform recently reported that the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) organization claims to have more than 250 registered campus chapters, but a spokesman for DSA, YDSA’s parent organization, now claims that there are actually 57 active chapters.

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A list of “YDSA Registered Campuses” on the group’s website, however, still boldly proclaims that YDSA has added more than 250 new chapters since launching its fall campus drive in 2017, specifically naming 218 chapters by campus, 27 of which are high school chapters.

“Currently, we’ve received over 250 campuses register for the fall drive,” the page boasts. “This explosion in interest shows that this semester will be the biggest ever for YDSA. We will be able to build a mass movement for democratic socialism and justice at campuses across the country.”

While DSA failed to respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment prior to publication of the original article, DSA Program Associate Lawrence Dreyfuss subsequently reached out to inform Campus Reform that the true number of active chapters is much lower than the website indicates.

“The stat on the website means that 250 campuses expressed interest initially (they filled out a form), but in terms of establishing an active chapters, we wound up with 57,” Dreyfuss explained, noting that it is “fairly common” for students who have expressed interest in starting a chapter to later “realize that classes and other extra-curriculars don’t leave them with enough time/motivation.”

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The “YDSA Registered Campuses” page fails to differentiate between “active” groups and campuses where students have simply “expressed interest” in starting a chapter. 

YDSA also claims on its “Fall Drive” page—which was last updated in June 2017—that it had grown from 15 chapters to nearly 50 chapters during the preceding year, and hoped to double that number by the fall of 2017.

“Over the past year, Young Democratic Socialists growth [sic] unprecedented in our history,” the site advertises. “In one year, YDS went from just 15 chapters of YDS to almost 50 chapters across 27 states. This incredible expansion shows not only the demand for democratic socialist ideas on campuses and schools across the country but the desire of students across the country for the power to fight back against Trump.”

Provided the information listed on the website is accurate, it would appear that YDSA experienced relatively little growth during the 2017-18 academic year, only adding roughly seven new chapters—about one-fifth as many as it claimed to have established the preceding year.

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YDSA does not advertise its overall membership figures, but each chapter must have at least three members, per the organization’s constitution. Based on a total of 57 active groups, YDSA has a minimum of 171 student members, each of whom pays $20 in annual dues, according to its membership page.

UPDATE: Dreyfuss told Campus Reform that YDSA did not “have any interest in being misleading,” asserting that the “YDSA Registered Campuses” page was not intended to imply that every campus on the list was officially registered.

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