“Wokeness” is more popular than you think: After years of many across the political spectrum taking it as a given that “wokeness” is both a terrible thing and electoral poison for anyone who supports it, a new survey suggests that what Elon Musk calls a “mind virus” is actually surprisingly popular.
In the last five years or so, the discussion of “wokeness” has all but taken over American political and cultural discourse. Wokeness may be something of a nebulous concept, sort of the way “political correctness” was 30 years earlier, but a series of assumptions have begun to take hold in regard to the “W” word. Many conservatives — along with quite a few liberals, especially those over 50, and nominally left-leaning media figures like Bill Maher — believe that wokeness is both uniquely terrible, and also a political albatross around the necks of any elected official who is perceived to support it.
It turns out those assumptions may very well be wrong.
First, the 2022 midterm elections, which much of the GOP attempted to treat as a mandate on “wokeness,” turned out much worse for the Republicans than they expected. And now, a new survey has found that being woke is actually quite popular.
According to a new USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll released this week. a majority of Americans — 56 percent — view the term as meaning “to be informed, educated on, and aware of social injustices,” while just 39 percent say the term means “to be overly politically correct and police others’ words.”
This has a chance to be something of a big deal as the presidential campaign gets underway. After all, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who is a likely presidential candidate, has put opposition to wokeness at the center of his political identity as governor. He not only signed a piece of legislation called the Stop Woke Act but declared in his re-election that Florida is “where woke goes to die.” (Florida is also, as several joked in response, where everyone goes to die.)
It is, to be clear, only one poll. But based on that one poll, it would appear that running against wokeness isn’t the slam dunk that some thought it was.
“Most Americans understand that to be woke is to be tuned in to injustices around us,” Cliff Young of Ipsos said in the USA Today report about the survey results. “But for a key segment of Republicans who make up the Trump-DeSantis base, ‘woke’ is a clear trigger for the worst of the politically correct, emerging multicultural majority.”
With most Republicans, per the survey, on board with the negative definition of wokeness, we can expect the issue is to extensively litigated during the Republican presidential primaries, as the candidates argue among themselves to show GOP primary voters whose anti-woke credentials are the strongest.
It would appear a primary that is fought on those terms would be good for Ron DeSantis.
But in a general election, the USA Today survey shows that being too identified with an anti-woke ideology could hurt candidates with the overall electorate. And if DeSantis is the Republican nominee, he’ll have to defend such actions as cracking down on Disney, banning books, and the “Don’t Say Gay” law to swing voters.
Back in January, the conservative-leaning Canadian website Quillette argued against the use of the term “woke” altogether.
“The word ‘woke’ has lost all useful meaning when it comes to communication between people on opposite sides of the culture war,” Quillette’s Angel Eduardo wrote. He noted that while the term started in the African-American community to mean a specific thing, that meaning has gotten lost.
“Over time, it morphed into a description of a wider movement that ostensibly advocates for the broad unobjectionable values… while also pushing for more sharply defined political positions relating to racial equity, systemic racism, and gender rights. This, in turn, spawned a conservative counter-movement that co-opted ‘woke’ as a pejorative term for describing people who exhibit excessive (and potentially harmful) beliefs and behaviors under the guise of nominally inclusive, sunny-sounding ideas.”
Expertise and Experience: Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.