Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 19, 2021

Electability is a concept I can’t support in 2020

By ALEX WALINSKAS | October 10, 2019



Biden is often seen as the most electable Democratic candidate for 2020.

Over the past few months, I’ve heard a refrain from my peers when talking about Democratic hopefuls for President: “I like X candidate, but I should probably vote for Biden because he’s the most electable.” Voters in the Democratic Party (disclaimer: I’m one of them) like to throw around the word “electability,” but what exactly does this mean? As a young person excited about civic participation, I’ve taken a more critical look at the claim that former Vice President Joe Biden is our most electable — and only —  option. 

Biden has been leading in voter polls since the race began, but this doesn’t necessarily reflect an electorate that’s enthusiastic about his candidacy. Patrick Murray, the director of Monmouth University’s Polling Institute (a major source of polling data) told the New York Times that he “did not meet one Biden voter who was in any way, shape or form excited about voting for Biden.” 

In Murray’s experience, voters supporting Biden simply felt they had to pick a centrist Democratic nominee. This falls in line with the sentiment I’ve been seeing from a lot of Democratic voters, including my peers, that a moderate candidate is the only thing that can beat Trump. I’ve had conversations with several friends who are excited about candidates like Elizabeth Warren or Julian Castro, but feel resigned that they have to vote for Biden to beat Trump. 

The benefit of a moderate candidate holds true if electing a Democrat to the White House truly depends on “swing voters” seeking a centrist option. But this logic ignores the importance of voter mobilization among more reliable Democrats, who may actually be far more excited by more progressive candidates rather than Biden. 

So much of the conversation surrounding Biden and his supposed electability seems to cater to the Trump-inclined voter. In doing so, I think we’re at risk of losing touch with the broader Democratic base. While the median or “swing” voter certainly exists, the idea that they will only vote for a very centrist candidate seems to be based on a constant repeat of that rhetoric rather than a proven truth. Hillary Clinton was quite moderate after all, and Donald Trump is our president. 

Candidates like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders don’t just offer voters a chance to beat Trump, they tout the prospect of a new policy direction and a more articulated social vision than Biden’s candidacy. Is the sole prospect of being better than Trump enough to motivate voters to turn out for a candidate? Given Trump’s win in 2016, I don’t think so. I think a further-left candidate with a more exciting and novel platform would encourage a stronger turnout among a wide swath of voters seeking something other than both the status quo of institutional Democrats and Donald Trump as president. 

The policy platforms of progressive-leaning candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders speak far more directly to the experiences and concerns of voters. Warren and Sanders both have plans to forgive a vast amount of student debt, and I’ve watched people my age try Warren’s loan relief calculator to see just how they would benefit from her policy. These candidates have also taken the lead on making climate policy a priority — Biden’s initial claims of a ‘middle-ground’ climate policy received criticism from youth-led, progressive climate groups. 

I also think it’s important for primary elections to be an opportunity for voters to express their true preferences. If we continue to vote for the candidate that we think the nation wants, we might be suppressing the future that people actually want to see. If you’re a Democrat voting in a primary, it’s your chance to express how you want the party to represent itself and your interests. 

The moral of my musings, therefore, is this: if you like a candidate other than Biden, don’t be afraid to throw them your support. I’m a big fan of Warren’s candidacy right now, and I’m inspired by how much excitement her rallies generate. While some think that Elizabeth is “too far left” to beat Trump, I’m going to embrace my civic opportunity to give her my vote. If she inspires me, she can inspire others too, and I think that grassroots enthusiasm is what actually can beat Trump.

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