Why the Democrats Abandon Their Base And How to Fix It
Rule number one of politics is “don’t abandon your base.” This means that, as a politician, the beliefs of the core people who vote for you are the ones you should be appealing to most of all. So why then do Democrats just not do this? The answer may surprise you! Or maybe not…
What Does the Democratic Base Want?
The democratic base is hungry for big change. A 15-dollar-an-hour minimum wage, Medicare-for-All, a Green New Deal, legalizing weed. All of these policies poll well above 50% among the core of the democratic party voters. Not only that, but they’re also very popular among the general public. This isn’t only obvious from the polling, but you can see this very clearly in the 2020 election.
Though Joe Biden did not win the state of Florida, what did win there was a ballot measure for a 15-dollar-an-hour minimum wage. And though Joe Biden does not support the legalization of weed, the ballot measure to legalize the recreational use of marjuana passed in the state of Arizona. As it did in Montana… and New Jersey… and in South Dakota… sort of. Oregon went far above and beyond even that.
And this isn’t relegated to the 2020 election either. We can see signs all over the place that the democratic base (and the public at large) want more. Obama ran on hope and change and won twice. Progressives like AOC, Rashida Talib and Jamaal Bowman have been winning on a progressive platform since 2018. Bernie Sanders much before that.
So what’s the deal? If the democratic base wants all these changes, and the public at large likes them too, why don’t the democrats run on them?
The Difference Between Democrats and Republicans
Before you can understand why the Democratic Party doesn’t pander to their base, you must ask yourself this question first: What is it that politicians want?
Got it yet?
Know what I’m getting at?
Politicians want to be (re-)elected.
Most obvious answer ever, right? But what does it take to get re-elected in the land of the free? Two things, really: You must convince voters with arguments, ads, policies, etc. that they should vote for you. And you must raise the money to fund your campaign. And it’s here we can find the seed of the problem as well as the difference between Democrats and Republicans.
Red Meat to the Base
Republicans love throwing red meat to their base. If there’s anything you don’t need to tell a Republican politician it’s that their base must be pandered to. They’ll talk about ownings guns, about the bible, about tax cuts, about how great having fewer regulations is, about saving jobs in the oil industry and on and on the pandering goes. It’s all the greatest hits. All the stuff that their base, by and large, loves.
And their base aren’t the only ones who love those things. Corporations, and other similar interest groups, do as well.
Selling more guns is a-okay with the NRA. Tax cuts? The CEO of Exxon Mobil cums in his pants at the very thought. Fewer regulations? Oh, Jeff Bezos would agree with you. Saving jobs in the oil industry? Shell would swipe right on that.
And so what we see here is that the priorities of the Republican base align perfectly well with the priorities of the donor class. When Republican politicians are pandering to their base, they are simultaneously pandering to their donors. They get the votes and they get that sweet, sweet donor money in one fell swoop.
The Democrats though… they have a more difficult job.
The Democratic base, by and large, doesn’t really like sticking with oil, they want a Green New Deal. They don’t think America is already a meritocracy. They want social programs that help people get back on track. They don’t think all regulation is bad. In fact in some cases they want more of it. This puts the Democratic politicians in an awkward position.
They need the money from the donor class to run their campaigns, but at the same time they have to convince enough people to vote for them to actually win.
The best thing to convince more voters would be to move left. If all of them pushed a 15-dollar-an-hour minimum wage hard, if they universally promoted the Green New Deal, if they got behind Medicare-for-All, their base would turn out for them in huge numbers (as has been the case for people like AOC and Cori Bush). This is rule one of politics again. But because of the abovementioned conundrum the Democratic Party can’t do this.
Because those are the things their donors don’t like. Their donors from the pharmaceutical industry don’t want cheaper drugs, they want to continue making lots of money. Their donors from the insurance industry don’t want Medicare-for-All, because they’ll be out of business. Their donors in the fossil fuel industry don’t want a Green New Deal because every solar panel bought is a barrel of oil not bought.
If they pander to their base they’ll gain votes but but lose money. If they stay where they are they keep the money but not enough people will vote for them because their base won’t turn out as much. They can’t run left or stay where they are, so what’s their only remaining option? To run right.
Running right means they retain the money they get from donors, which means they can run their campaigns (and in the case of people like Nancy Pelosi retain their own personal power). And it also means they can try to compete with the Republicans for the very small fraction of right-leaning independents whom they hope will swing the election.
And their base? They simply hope to retain enough of them by pretending to care about social issues (which cost corporations no money) and by using their Republican opponent as a boogeyman. All the while explaining to their base that they would love to give them all the good policies, but they can’t because they need the votes. But those votes are marginal, really they need the money.
And that, my friends, is how the sausage is made.
So now that we know the problem, what’s the solution?
The basis of the problem is the conflict between money and votes, so getting private money out of politics would be a good first step. This can be done in a number of ways, however my favourite is a proposal similar to Andrew Yang’s “democracy dollars.” Where every American would get a certain amount of money (100 dollars in Yang’s case) to spend on a politician of their choosing every year. Use it or lose it. This should be enough, collectively, to drown out the influence of donor money and get rid of the money-votes paradox.
Ranked-choice voting should be another priority. Not only would it reintroduce some much-needed competition into the race by other parties, but the fact that multiple people can run at once also means that simply painting your opponent as an evil boogeymen no longer works. The only reason it works right now is because it convinces left-wing voters that they can’t have the Republican wing and since they have nowhere else to go… well, a vote for the Democrat it is. But with ranked-choice voting that wouldn’t be possible. Because they would have somewhere else to go. This means the politician would actually have to offer something to their voters. Imagine that.
And finally, a dismanteling of the current party infrastructure would be a cherry on top of the democracy cake. This pertains to many things, but it pertains especially to reducing the power Democratic leadership wields through control of donor money and to the politician-lobbyist pipeline. Since both of these encourage obedience to donors.
And that’s it. Implement all of these changes and Americans may finally see the day where the Democrats, just like Republicans, throw some red meat to their starving base.