Reflections on the Status Quo: How Electability Has Jeopardized the Presidency


“Electability.” From the beginning of the 2020 election season, the Democratic Party has been obsessed with choosing the most electable candidate, which, in the context of the current election, is believed to be the candidate who is as close to the center of the political spectrum as possible. Many Democrats believe that a centrist candidate is more likely to win over politically neutral voters or voters who have lost faith in President Donald Trump. The main appeal of an electable candidate is not his or her innovative policy ideas; rather, it is their perceived ability to defeat an external opponent come the general election. However, by prioritizing electability in its choice of candidate, the Democratic Party reduces its platform to simply being “anti-Republican” and generates uninspiring candidates who will merely maintain a flawed status quo. It relies on people voting against someone instead of voting for someone. Instead, candidates should be daring and radical, promising change and inspiring strong voter turnout.

During the 2020 Democratic Primaries, the concept of electability was considered a key issue by the majority of Democratic voters; 65 percent of primary voters declared that they would prefer a candidate who could defeat incumbent Trump in November, even if that candidate did not have strong policies, a good vision, or unique abilities. As a result, candidates such as the former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg emerged as key contenders in the primaries, despite the fact that he was a former Republican who had introduced policies such as Stop and Frisk, which allowed NYC police to racially profile citizens even to this day. Despite this, however, Bloomberg was able to reach third place in primary polling. Although the campaign had a weak Super Tuesday, its strong early performance shows that primary voters are willing to choose candidates whose records go directly against the values of the Democratic Party, solely because of their perceived ability to defeat Trump. The eventual nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, was able to win the primary this way. Although Senator Bernie Sanders, who is considerably farther to the left of Biden, was found to be the most trusted on matters such as health care (the most important policy issue to primary voters), Biden’s supposed electability gave him the path to the nomination. This dynamic reveals a key flaw within the Democratic Party: voters are beginning to choose candidates that they don’t really have faith in—they are settling for someone rather than allowing themselves to be truly inspired by someone. This means that the Democratic Party is increasingly producing candidates who are uninspiring and will likely fall short during the general election.

The current assumption that Democrats are making is that radical candidates cannot win the general election against Trump, assuming that a more centrist candidate will have a greater possibility of attracting more neutral voters. Yet this approach is ultimately flawed because it fails to take voter turnout and motivation into account. Voters tend to vote for people who inspire them and make them feel strongly about the election. Trump, who throughout the entire election cycle was perceived as a long-shot candidate, was able to bulldoze his generic Republican opponents and win a close (although controversial) victory against Hillary Clinton through his radical policies that emotionally appealed to many Americans. With his radicalism, he was able to set himself apart from both his predecessors in the presidency and opponents in the Republican and Democratic Parties. Trump used these policies to give himself the reputation of someone who was willing to challenge the status quo, which many Americans felt was failing them, thus motivating many voters to fight for him. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, became the less-inspiring candidate. Her more centrist-leaning policies didn’t satisfy enough people, thus, fewer voters were excited or inspired to vote for her. Looking at the 2020 Democratic primaries, the same appeal many found in Trump was also reflected in Senators Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Both Sanders and Warren proposed large structural change as part of their platforms, resulting in their receiving the most individual donations and largest rally crowds out of any primary candidate. The emphasis on policy and change during campaigning translates heavily into governance as well; if one promises to fix a system that one perceives as broken, one will leave a far heavier mark on the political landscape than a candidate like Biden, who was once reported openly telling donors “nothing will fundamentally change,” despite the fact that the current political situation in the U.S. has failed many Americans. Democrats are deeming Biden the most electable candidate, yet Biden does not inspire voters the way nearly all winning candidates do.

The Democratic Party, in shifting its focus to defeating the Republicans, has abandoned its original purpose and mission. By favoring “electable” centrist candidates, the party ends up choosing uninspiring party insiders who not only lose elections and keep in place a status quo that many are dissatisfied with, but their values also call into question what the party truly advocates for. If the party wants to regain its power, Democratic voters need to recognize the fact that it is sometimes necessary to choose a risky, anti-establishment nominee. These politicians who promise change and propose radical policies are able to inspire far more people to vote, by appealing to the large yet often ignored segment of the American population that is disillusioned by the current political machine.


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