Want to win over moderates? Be progressive
President-elect Joe Biden and the Democratic Party support a $15 minimum wage. President Donald Trump and the Republican Party are completely against the idea. Yet, in the election Trump won with over 51% of the vote in Florida while a ballot initiative for a $15 minimum wage passed with 60.8% of the vote. To many, this would seem completely contradictory, but as someone who has grown up in Florida, it makes complete sense. Bill Clinton, the last Southern president from the Democratic Party, encapsulated this perfectly with a sign he hung in his Little Rock Campaign Headquarters that listed three messages: “The economy stupid,” “Don’t forget Healthcare” and “Change vs More of the Same.” People from the South may overwhelmingly vote Republican, but they are not against progressive ideas. Southerners want higher wages, better healthcare and socioeconomic change. This does not only apply to the South, but also for those living in the Rust Belt, a region in the midwest and any rural areas. It is the reason why Trump was so successful in the first place; he promised real change to people who felt as if they had been left behind. So, the question is, why was Biden and the rest of the Democratic Party’s performance in Florida and other Southern states so lackluster? The answer is how Democrats ran their campaigns.
Biden ran on anti-Trump messages, claiming that the president was dangerous and that he could beat him and restore America to its pre-Trump status. Biden famously argued for bipartisanship and believed that he could work with the Republican Party. Biden reiterated that message until his election: he was the guy who would beat Trump. Luckily for Biden, Trump was unpopular, and Democratic voters were highly motivated to remove him from office. Additionally, Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic increased his unpopularity. Still, Biden and many other Democrats ignored the three main messages of Clinton’s campaign. Many Democrats campaigned on simply being anti-Trump. They attacked Trump for being ineffective, but they did not offer extensive plans for change. Democrats falsely believed that by being the antithesis to Trumpism, they could easily glide to victory. Additionally, they became complacent, with many relying on traditional media advertising and not building a large foundation through canvassing voters. They miscalculated.
Even during a time mired by a deadly pandemic and a president who has shown gross negligence, the number one issue to voters was the economy. According to exit polls from the 2020 presidential election, the economy was still decisively the biggest issue among voters, followed by a tie with the coronavirus and racial inequality, with healthcare tied at third. The economy is at the forefront of voters’ concerns, and that is especially true in the many Southern States that are economically depressed in which Trump still dominates. The problem is that there is a perception that in terms of the economy Republican policies are better. Thus, many voters put their blinders on and vote Republican. The thing is that when voters are concerned about the economy, what they are really thinking about is their economic well being, which in other words is their wage and job security. In terms of healthcare, voters want a system that is affordable, and they want to avoid medical bankruptcy. In both of these issues, the Democrats have the advantage. The problem is that the mainstream Democratic Party does not campaign on those issues. Healthcare has become a source of infighting in the Democratic Party, and while they support economic reform such as a $15 minimum wage, most mainstream Democrats don't campaign with this message, worrying that it will turn off moderate voters. Most Democrats campaigning on the economy focus on taxation, which immediately gives Republicans the advantage to simply say Democrats will raise people’s taxes.
The drive to win the moderate voter is the most misguided feature of the mainstream Democratic Party. It forces them to never campaign on bold steps, and instead cater to moderate voters by compromising on many ideals. While the Republican Party has gone more to the right, the mainstream Democratic Party has actively fought against the rise of progressive elements in the party. What the Democratic Party doesn't understand is that the main progressive policies are popular. For example, in terms of Medicare for All, according to a recent poll it has 69% nationwide support, with 62% support from Independents and, most shocking of all, 42% support from Republicans. According to the Pew Research Center, a $15 minimum wage is also widely popular with 86% of Democratic or Democratic leaning voters, and while among far right Republicans only 30% support a $15 minimum wage, 59% of center right and right-leaning Republicans support it. If Democrats truly want to appeal to moderate voters, they have to take up progressive policies. They can use these widely popular issues to their advantage. If they campaign on popular policies of raising the minimum wage and Medicare For All, they force Republicans to address their lack of support for these policies and lack of real solutions to the problems of inadequate wages and exorbitantly expensive healthcare.
There is bipartisan support for progressive change in America. People realize that the current system is unsustainable, as wealth inequality has soared and many have gone bankrupt from medical expenses. The problem is the Democratic Party does not focus on how it offers people change. If Democrats actively campaigned on economic and universal health care policies, they would force Republicans to finally be seen as the party against those proposals. Trump is often said to be saying the unspoken things out loud for the Republican Party but this is only partly true. The Republican Party’s racist and xenophobic ideas have been completely exposed by Trump, but he has continued to veil the Republicans’ insistence on maintaining economic and healthcare systems that people oppose. If Democrats remove that veil, the people in rural and Southern areas will start to listen. The Democrats have to show that they care about the people who have been left out in the modern economy, and unlike the Republicans, they have policies to do just that. I want Democrats from all over to challenge Republicans on why they do not support an increased minimum wage or support a healthcare system that has become the highest source of bankruptcy in America. I want to hear the next Republican candidate for president say on a debate stage that they do not support increasing the minimum wage. Only then can a traditional Republican voter realize that the Republicans are not on their side.
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