Joe Biden won the election by a hairline. Liberals and progressives have very little to celebrate about following the 2020 election. Although a lot of people claim that this was a resounding victory for Democrats, and a mandate for Biden and his administration to act — it is not. He won by four percent nationwide, which is a little more than six million votes. In a country of over 300 million, and with approximately half of them turning out to vote, this is barely a fraction of the population.
Polling was overwhelmingly implying that this year would be another ‘blue wave,’ an expansion of the 2018 election. Near the end of the campaign season, it was even deemed most likely that Democrats would win a majority in the Senate, if only barely. However, they have now lost seats in the House, and any control over the Senate comes down to two runoff elections that weren’t the most important to liberals on election day. How did the Democratic Party leadership react to this? By blaming progressives and leftists of course! How could Biden and his centrists be at any fault, after all?
Neoliberal media pundits have been heavily bashing the far left of the party since then, and moderate and centrist party members saw this as an opportunity to ostracize progressive politicians even more than before. This has been surprisingly common and mainstream throughout the past month, especially considering these arguments make absolutely no sense when given any thought. Trying to scapegoat half of your party’s base sounds, and is, really counterproductive. Most evidence and analysis on 2020’s election results show Biden significantly hurting down-ballot Democrats, and centrists at-large significantly hurting their party’s ability to have a coherent base and drum up any support by typical Americans. It’s critical that liberals and progressives take a look at this if they want any chance of winning in the 2020s.
Let’s take the very base-level election results and trends. For example, Democratic losers in their House races have been especially hostile toward progressive voters and policies, seemingly trying to take out their anger about losing somewhere. Why are losing Democrats overrepresented by moderates and centrists, and not their far-left counterparts, whose calls for Medicare for All, defunding the police, and enacting the Green New Deal allegedly lost them their elections? These policies boosted Democratic candidates nationwide, and specifically opposing them was pretty unpopular with the general population — that’s why.
All 112 co-sponsors of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All legislation won their reelections. Only one co-sponsor of the Green New Deal lost. The Democratic Socialists of America pointed out that a candidate’s stance on universal healthcare in swing districts was one of the most powerful indicators if they won or lost. Supporters on the left did excellently, while moderates and centrists against it almost all lost.
A perfect example of this is Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia. Rep. Spanberger took to the media circuit after losing her reelection bid to claim that far-left calls to defund the police and embrace socialist policy were used against her by Republicans and, in turn, lost her the race. Except, most Republicans attack ads. Previously, her election was actually about Islamophobia, not socialism. She even embraced the messaging of those ads, swinging even more to the right and introducing legislation with known racist Rep. Pete King of New York, who goes on to solely blame the Islamic faith for the entirety of 9/11.
Socialist support actually seems to have improved candidates’ chances, as DSA-endorsed candidates had around an 85 percent win rate in elections around the country, on the local, state, and federal level, punching well above their weight. In addition, Dave Wasserman of NBC noticed that, for Democratic losses in the House of Representatives, all as of Nov. 20, lost to either women or minority candidates from the GOP, illustrating how the electorate overall desires more representation, outside of just party affiliation. This is something that Biden has only done on the surface level thus far, with his transition and cabinet choices.
Besides highlighting the agendas of Biden’s cabinet picks, this also brings attention to former centrist cabinet members. Rep. Donna Shalala of Florida, for instance, was Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. During the time she held this position, she repeatedly refused to import medication from Canada to lower costs for everyday people. When Shalala went on CBS after losing her reelection bid, she lied on air that all swing district winners were centrists, when literally the opposite was true. Moreover, she went on to exclusively blame progressive activists for her losing her seat. At the same time, Shalala continued to refuse the American public any form of cheaper healthcare, attacking members of Congress, who, in recent years, have bipartisanly supported importing drugs from Canada.
Again, it seems that being a centrist who doesn’t approve of any change whatsoever, who would rather sit back and let the suffering of the American people continue, lost her the election, not the people rightfully criticizing her. To sum up how out of touch she and her colleagues are, the biggest base-level indicator of how badly moderates and centrists blew it, might be the election data aggregated by Max Kennerly. This data can be found online, where graphing out swing district results in the House demonstrated that the more conservative a Democratic candidate was, the more likely they were to lose or underperform.
Then, you might ask, ‘that’s mainly for the House; how could that have affected statewide races for the Senate and president the same way?’ Well, questioner I just made up, I’m glad you asked! This was extremely prevalent in the American South, but also had huge ramifications for some states out west. For example, we can look at progressives themselves, as Democrats had far-left candidates running for senate in West Virginia and Tennessee, the former arguably being the most conservative state in the country.
In West Virginia, challenger Paula Jean Swearingin, along with Biden, didn’t fare well, but being a ‘democratic socialist’ didn’t really seem to hurt her, as she only ran three percent behind Biden statewide. Tennessee had a similar result, with challenger Marquita Bradshaw, who won the Democratic primary despite being hated by the establishment — literally only fundraising $3,000, running two percent behind Biden. The performance was actually better than any other Democrat running for that Senate seat since 2002, despite also being extremely progressive.
Meanwhile, in Kentucky, Dem. Amy McGrath blew $100 million on an unwinnable race, campaigned in support of Trump, and ended up losing that seat worse than any other Democrat, again, since 2002. Ads by centrists, in general, were some of the most damaging devices for liberals as a whole, with Biden’s personality and anti-Trump ads heavily suspected of hurting almost all other party members down ballot. This, alongside him being a center-right politician and campaigning almost exclusively to win more suburban Republicans and centrists instead of rallying the Party’s base, significantly handicapped other liberals down to the local level.
While these are more isolated cases, the opposite also happened in North Carolina, though to a lesser extent. In a state where Democrats were expected to win for both president and Senate, they lost both, with Biden and Cal Cunningham, running on opposing Trump more than anything else, having had their campaigning efforts collapse and severely hurting down ballot candidates. The only win for liberals here was the reelection of Gov. Roy Cooper by four to five percent. Gov. Cooper ran a much more proactive campaign, promising to expand Medicaid and wanting liberal changes. This was the focal point in a Vox write-up from Sean Collins, where he pointed out that, while Democrats campaigning in Georgia was very policy-centric and focused on what they would do — which got them 16 electoral votes and two Senate runoffs — in North Carolina, they barely focused on policy at all, standing more for ‘anything but Trump’ than anything else, resulting in heavy losses. If either candidate had specifically voted on Medicaid expansion at a bare minimum, in a state where Fox News polling said 66 percent of residents wanted Medicare for all and showed extreme support of progressive policies nationwide, it’s a lot more likely they would’ve won.
Another instance of a lack of policy hurting was in Montana. While it wasn’t competitive for the presidential race, it was expected to be close for the Senate and Governorship before former Gov. Steve Bullock, a popular but right-leaning Democrat, lost by 10 percent for the Senate, and Rep. Gianforte, famous for attacking and beating a reporter for asking a question, also beat Democrats by 10 percent. You know what surpassed both of those margins? Marijuana legalization, with 57 percent approving it. If either centrist Democrat decided to actually do what the people wanted and actively and wholeheartedly supported that, as one of the only nonpartisan issues in this country, they definitely would have fared a lot better than doing nothing but saying they’re a referendum on Trump.
Smaller instances of progressive policy outperforming status quo moderate liberals include Arizona, where weed legalization performed better than any other candidate, which would have put it away for Democrats if Biden actively campaigned on it. In addition is Florida, which barely voted for Trump, but approved a $15 minimum wage by over 60 percent. Thus, implying that if Biden wanted Florida, all he had to do was literally just show support for this legalization. Alaska, despite being predominantly Republican, also approved a very progressive ranked-choice voting system for future elections.
Wow! So it really looks like liberals would have had a bigger lead over Trump and a much greater chance of winning the Senate outright if they adopted even the few most popular progressive policies and talking points. These are the same people who said Biden was the only safe option and would perform much better than a progressive! While there are numerous more examples I can use, this isn’t an academic essay, and could really be summed up well by illustrating just how fragile Biden’s win was. While I mentioned earlier that he really didn’t win the popular vote by a landslide, the electoral college system is even more d—ning for him and other conservative Democrats.
Political analyst and independent commentator online, Let’s Talk Elections, has been very vocal about this with polling data interpretations. They have combined the electoral college with the popular vote results in a proportional voting system, and shown that Biden has nowhere near his 70+ electoral vote lead. Depending on the type of proportional system and how percentages are rounded off, the final results become somewhere around 280 for Biden and around 260 for Trump. In addition, looking at the results for individual states shows just how close Biden was to Clinton’s 2016 outcome. If Trump performed just one percent better nationwide, states like Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin would’ve flipped for him, guaranteeing at least a 269 to 269 electoral tie. Moreover, if he performed 1.2 percent better, he also would have won Pennsylvania and outright won the entire election. For context, that margin is around the Libertarian Party’s share of the popular vote this year.
So what can politicians and activists take away from this? For one thing, it’s extremely apparent that being more progressive makes it much more likely that a politician can guarantee themselves a win. Using successful candidates and policies as a scapegoat for why you individually lost is a surefire way to make sure you certainly won’t be winning elections in the future, either. Pandering to the right, as Biden and many establishment liberals have done, doesn’t gain a candidate much, and openly inviting Republicans into the Democratic Party makes wins razor thin and losses much more common. It shows that, come January, this is going to be put to the test again.
If liberals, specifically candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, actually want to control the Senate, they really need to do some soul searching and make adjustments. There’s a reason Rev. Warnock’s chances are a lot better while running against Sen. Loeffler, someone to the right of Trump, while not running a campaign of only ‘I’m not Trump.’ He’s actively campaigned on policy, namely being very pro-choice, and being to the left of Ossoff. While Ossoff, an archetype centrist famous for losing one of the first special elections after 2016 in a time where literally every liberal won, is running against Sen. Purdue, who’s a moderate compared to Trump. This is a lot more dangerous for Democrats by still running a moderate, anti-Republican campaign instead of a policy-focused one that could appeal to a lot more voters. At the bare minimum, both of these men are going to have to really reflect on the 2020 election results if they want any chance of winning.
Democratic leadership probably won’t make any changes because of this, due to many valuing the status quo and propping the upper class and rich much higher up than winning more races and supporting the American public. Even if someone were to take their argument as correct, and believe that vocal party members and activists saying ‘defund the police’ significantly hurts other liberal politicians, that still shows how centrists and liberal leaders screwed up. If that accusation were true, then when it became a mainstream topic during Black Lives Matter protest over the summer, pundits and campaign managers should’ve instantly seen a substantial drop off of support in the polls, which they didn’t. Thus, showing that it would be harmful for everyone in November.
An ammatuer analyst would be able to see that, and if professionals in the party missed it completely until after the election, then they royally blew it, and none of them should still be employed! That is, unless it wasn’t true in the first place — unless adopting leftist policies gives a mandate to govern, instead of inching out a victory while leaving every other supporter and race torched behind you.
Feature Image: Courtesy of Reuters / Business Insider