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There are more democrats registered to vote in this country than Republicans, not that anyone would know it based on how elections have gone for the past 20 years or so. Democrat ideas tend to poll well in national polling, so why does it seem like democrats are always fighting uphill battles to win elections? It would seem like democrats would usually win and their ideas would sweep the nation but that isn’t the case. There are multiple issues at play. 

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

The Blue Wave of 2018

Given the plurality defeat in 2016 and the loss of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and state legislatures extending from 2010 onward, many people were shocked at the 2018 “blue wave” that swept Democrats into power across the country, even in Kansas, where voters elected a democrat governor and state legislature. Democrats saw it as a bell-weather for 2020 despite losing 2 Senate seats, not regaining a Senate majority, and President Trump’s stubbornly high polling numbers. The reason democrats were successful in 2018 was not simply President Trump’s early scandals and investigations that eventually lead to impeachment in January of 2020 (everyone has forgotten about that) but because they ran on core issues particularly around healthcare. It was simple and accessible. This is a template for the future of elections. Democrats need to keep the messaging simple, straight forward and smart on the issues. 

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“I would vote Democrat but I can’t because of 2A.”

Be Smart About Issues 

That quote was said in a real conversation had among the staff at Rouges. As readers know, we have a politically diverse staff of people. The Left in this country can often be a scattershot of issues, especially when the Republican party has such consistency of issues, message, and focus. While the GOP focuses on judges, taxes, small government, and “liberty.” Democrat issues can have range even within a single issue. Take gun control, for example, there are people who believe we should eliminate guns entirely, those who want more background checks, and those who believe in licensing, registration, and insurance. It’s not something that can be boiled down to a simple issue or catchphrase. Conversely, on the right, the issue has only one dynamic: guns for all with as little government regulation. Ultimately, this a difference between the narrative dialogue between the right and the left. The Left tends to live in a far more nuanced world than the Right. This is something the Left can improve upon. Keeping messaging about policy simple and easy to understand and gather around is great power in politics and the Democrat party has done a poor job of uniting itself around its core issues. Often Democrats get distracted by side issues within identity politics that drive people away from the party. If politics happens at the center, democrats can promote Leftist ideas about healthcare and the economy but should not try to engage the center on identity politics issues. Republicans use it as easy fodder to make democrats seem crazy and it doesn’t get anyone elected. 

Why the Presidential Election Will be Close

While many democrats predict a landslide election for Joe Biden, the election will probably be closer than many people who fear 4 more years of Trump will like. This will be nice for Trump, who can then challenge various outcomes in court, leading to weeks of legal wrangling. Many of those on the Left will be surprised. This is because while America has languished under Trump and his handling of the pandemic has been poor, voting blue still comes with baggage. This is why it is important to promote progressive policies where they will be popular and back away from them, where that won’t do. Kansas did not elect a Democrat governor for the first time in 30 years on transgender bathroom issues or gay marriage. She won on counter terrible economic policies that left the state of Kansas broke and falling apart. The key thing to learn is to be progressive where it pays and not where it doesn’t. The GOP creates a party where single-issue voters can feel at home right alongside party wonks who focus on specific policies. The Democrats create a party where if you don’t tick the right boxes on marriage equality, abortion, and gender issues, you’re not welcome. The reality is that strategy works well on the coasts, where people are likely to agree with such things. Still, it won’t win a senate race in Montana. If Democrats want to secure their own electoral future, they would do well to remember to be progressive where it matters and create a party where people from a variety of ideas can be welcome. This will help Democrats win will past 2020. The GOP won’t go down without a fight and the last thing the Left should be fighting about is things that won’t win elections.