Joe Biden has won the presidency, but Democrats need to acknowledge and fix their down-ballot failures
As Democrats begin to take stock of the 2020 election results, it’s clear that they have a lot to celebrate. Besides taking back the White House, voter turnout is projected to be at its highest level since 1900, the War on Drugs was soundly rejected through numerous ballot referendums, and exciting young Democrats like Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman joined the party’s ranks in Congress. Despite their gains, Nov. 3 was not the massive victory that Democrats had hoped for and were projected to attain, and there are clear warning signs for the party going forward.
To start with the obvious, Biden barely won the election, Democrats lost seats in the House and likely failed to take back the Senate. We may not know the exact results for some time, but the margins of victory for Biden in Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are all razor thin.
Democrats also failed to win many tossup Senate races, the worst of which was Sara Gideon’s loss to incumbent Republican Sen. Susan Collins in Maine. For an opposition party challenging a uniquely unpopular president, during the worst economic crisis we’ve faced in a century, in the middle of an ongoing pandemic that has been handled beyond poorly … you see where I’m going with this.
The election should have been a decisive win across the board, if not a blowout. The fact that it was not, and that Democrats greatly underperformed expectations in Congress, is a massive indictment of the Democratic Party leadership and their strategy.
Not only did Democrats significantly underperform expectations, but some concerning demographic trends emerged as well. According to exit polls, white people in America preferred Donald Trump by a 57-42 margin, signaling how much work still needs to be done to leave America’s racist past behind us. Once again, the heroic efforts of nonwhite organizers helped secure Democrats the presidency, despite the campaign’s constant appeals to “Never Trump” Republicans.
Voters who listed the economy as their most important issue voted for Trump by an astounding 82-17 margin, suggesting that the economic message of Joe Biden was unconvincing. This is likely because the economy just wasn’t a big part of Biden’s messaging strategy: a message of “unity” and a “return to decency” far outshined any substantive policy changes that would actually change lives.
The narrow victory, plus these demographic statistics, do not bode well for the 2022 and 2024 elections. So how can Democrats fix some of the problems they faced on Nov. 3?
It may sound counterintuitive, but Democrats must begin to shift the party leftward and embrace progressive economic change. As we saw in numerous contests this election, exciting new policies represented by bold candidates can drive turnout in ways moderates cannot.
Across the country, leftist politicians and ideas were embraced at the ballot box. One of the best examples of this theory in action was the passage of the $15 minimum wage in Florida. Despite Biden losing the state, the $15 minimum wage referendum, considered a radical idea just a few years ago, won a commanding 61 percent of the vote. Legal marijuana passed in all four of its contests, including in Republican strongholds Montana and South Dakota. Oregon went even further, decriminalizing drugs like heroin and cocaine, as well as legalizing magic mushrooms for therapeutic use. Furthermore, numerous Democrats running on Medicare for All in swing districts, like Mike Levin in CA-49, and Matt Cartwright in PA-8, won re-election. A preliminary independent analysis ordered by the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats found that moderates performed worse in swing districts than progressives.
These ideas and candidates all performed so well because they offer a real change from the status quo. It’s exciting for Americans around the country, in both rural and urban areas, to vote for policies that will materially improve their economic lives.
Despite Trump’s lost, the ideology that propelled him to the White in 2016 is here to stay. If Democrats don’t implement real changes for the millions of Americans that voted for them this cycle, 2022 and 2024 could once again see Republican takeovers of the House, Senate and White House.