Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar are the most neoliberal “centrist” Democratic candidates in the 2020 primaries, and together take up almost 60% of Democratic presidential primary electorate support.
Recent Democratic presidential primary polls have shown former Vice President Joe Biden coming out of the gate with a 20–30 point lead over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
The mainstream media has given disproportionate coverage to the extreme sides of the political spectrum, and maybe the Democratic Party isn’t as extreme as we’ve been led to believe.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib garner most of the DC media attention and their bullhorn blares on loop: The New Green Deal, free college, Medicare-for-all, open borders, socialism, and abortion. Maybe Nancy Pelosi wasn’t far off when she quipped, “that’s like five people.”
In 2016, Hillary Clinton was running on a platform that wasn’t progressive enough to sway Sanders’ ‘democratic socialist’ voters. The Vermont Senator was able to push Clinton to the left on a few key issues, including a $15 dollar minimum wage, although she maintained her opposition of free college, universal healthcare, and other issues that make her look much more like 2020 Joe Biden than 2020 Bernie Sanders.
An estimated 12% of Bernie Sanders’ primary voters (almost 1.6 million people) pulled the lever for Trump, not Clinton in 2016, and many others either abstained from voting altogether, wrote a candidate in, or voted for a third party.
The cross-appeal of Trump and Bernie makes sense. They’re both populists, which mean they run on appealing to those who feel less fortunate or discarded by the elite political class; Sanders through mandatory minimum wage increases, universal healthcare, and free college, and Trump through economic growth, job security, and immigration.
Both, however, agree heavily on trade policy with their opposition of TPP, NAFTA, and the unchecked actions of countries like China. They also come close on a foreign policy of non-interventionism (although, many would argue that Trump has broken a lot of promises in this area) and both see a need for a halt in illegal immigration, although Trump takes on much tougher rhetoric and often argues in favor of reducing legal immigration, too.
Sanders is an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, supporting a pathway to citizenship for children who were brought into the US illegally, but also sees a need for increased border security, and is opposed to open borders.
They both also have a knack for relating to voters’ concerns. The President with illegal immigration and “Draining the Swamp,” and the Senator with corporate America and the 1%.
There’s also the matter of race relations: Race played a big factor in election 2016, NPR reports that an overwhelming number of Bernie Sanders voters were more likely to believe that Democratic Party was meddling in identity politics in a negative way, and those voters went heavily for Trump in the general election.
Similar to 2016, a Democratic populist candidate loss could result in 10–15% of their supporters moving into the Trump tent.
Populism vs. The Establishment
Like Sanders, there are several issues Biden and Trump are more closely aligned on than Biden and the rest of the Democratic field. On the economy, the former Veep is closer to a “trickle-down economics” guy. His voting record in the Senate showcases his support for tax cuts and deregulation for big corporations. He also wrote legislation to protect small and large business owners alike with bankruptcy reform (It was vehemently opposed by Elizabeth Warren and vetoed by President Clinton).
Like Trump, Biden is also tough on crime, although the results have been vastly different — Biden famously penned the 1990’s Crime Bill for then-President Clinton that included the “Three Strikes” rule, sentencing repeat offenders to mandatory life sentences.
While Trump has been tough on crime, he’s made criminal justice reform a priority of his presidency, he successfully wrote into law the bi-partisan First Step Act, which ironically rolled back much of Biden’s policies that had disastrous effects on minority communities.
What does all this mean for 2020?
The largest issues to voters in 2016 were the economy and terrorism, followed closely by immigration, foreign policy, and gun rights. With only 33% of Americans in 2019 supporting socialism over capitalism, it’s no surprise the majority of American’s concerned about the economy would vote for Donald Trump over Secretary Clinton.
That percentage, combined with a booming economy under President Trump, gives Biden an edge over Sanders in 2020. President Trump also delivered on the war on terror, statistics show Americans feel safer than they did under Presidents Obama and Bush. This means the economy and foreign policy may take a back seat in 2020 to healthcare and immigration reform. (An issue Trump hasn’t been able to tackle.)
All this adds up to a Democratic Party that’s progressive on some hot-button issues and conservative on others. It’s an interesting dichotomy they’ve created — the loudest voices don’t seem to represent where the party is as a whole.
With the most party support being thrown behind the candidates who are less socialist and more pragmatic, the Democratic Party could be ripe for a shift back toward the center.
Don’t believe it?
While polls do show that ideas like “Medicare for All” are popular — (60–70% support) when people realize Bernie’s plan means banning private insurance plans that compete with the government — that popularity drops to the thirties. Election 2020 could be determined by how well the Democrats can market these plans to the public, and how effectively the Republicans can lobby against it. Polling shows the more disengaged voters are, the more likely they are to identify themselves as a centrist and to vote for a centrist.
However, with such a large Democratic primary field, all bets are off. It could only take a plurality of votes to clinch the nomination — Donald Trump won a little over a third of primary votes during the 2016 Republican primaries. The same thing could happen to any of the Democratic candidates. If so, the question becomes: Will they unify around their nominee like Republicans did in 2016?
If Biden pulls off a primary win, the way to the White House won’t be to shift further left, it will ride on staying true to the Democratic principles of old, with the goal of uniting the party based on more capitalist ideals and common sense reforms.
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Secret Coran-Stacy is a best-selling author, entrepreneur, and a senior contributor to CitizenSource, writing with a focus on U.S. elections and politics, media criticism, and illegal immigration. She hails from Little Rock, Arkansas.
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