Most of the wild journey of 2020 will hopefully come to an end on November 3rd, when America appoints its next Commander in Chief. There are two infamous contenders - former Vice President Joe Biden and the current President, Donald Trump. Like in the 2016 election, once again the US faces a bleak choice. At least this time, there’s a silver lining in defeating Trump.
The Democratic party won a historic victory in the 2018 midterm elections, gaining over 41 seats in Congress and also electing a record number of women. Even with national concerns over voter suppression the Democrats won a landslide victory. The midterm elections made it clear that there was a new, younger, more diverse and stronger wave of progressive Democrats fighting the GOP in the House. There was a smell of optimism emerging from Capitol Hill with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) leading the change. So, how did the Democrats end up with a moderate as a Presidential candidate and can he defeat Trump?
Every election voters face the dreaded electoral college. Some scholars have pointed out the problems with it, but plurality in a two-party system is the main one. A majority winner is the candidate who wins more than half of the votes, but a plurality win is when a candidate wins by receiving more votes compared to the other candidates. It is a win all or lose all situation and American elections run on plurality. In 2016, Trump won through plurality. Part of his win was also due to the 100 million eligible voters who did not vote but voter suppression and people not being bothered to vote is a discussion for another time. Trump never won a majority and 55% of nonvoters were either Democrat or Democrat leaning independents.
Biden can certainly use plurality to his advantage and the Democrats are already facilitating that with the help of previous contenders.
After Andrew Yang and Senator Cory Booker endorsed Biden, other Democratic candidates followed suit, even progressive contenders like Bernie Sanders. Senator Harris became Biden’s running mate creating history as the first woman of colour to be a Vice Presidential pick in a major party ticket. Sanders and Biden do not meet eye to eye ideologically, which was evident in the Democratic debates, but his endorsement was a game changer. Harris and Biden have a similar story. Fierce in her criticism of Biden's policies in the run up to the nomination, Harris' acceptance of the running mate post is a clear indication of the unanimity occuring in the party. The endorsements and support of previous candidates will help divert their supporters to the Biden campaign with the hope that he can win through both plurality and majority and eliminate the obstacle of people not turning up to the polling stations. This increases the probability of a Democratic President in the White House, as regardless of their ideological differences spread on a vast spectrum, they are all united against Trump.
In a two-party system, detesting the opposing party is simply the best and easiest form of alliance within a party and to rally support for the last standing nominee on their side. This is called negative partisanship and it has become a norm in politics that just seems to work because it brought the White House to the Republicans. Right-wing voters and independent voters can see that the left-wing party is putting aside their disagreements, and this unexpected unity is proving them to be tough contestants in the fight.
That is the beauty of democracy, the ability to hold those in power accountable.
Regardless of the issues with the electoral college, voter suppression and negative partisanship this election is exciting. With the announcement of Harris being selected as the Vice President candidate and the support from Bernie Sanders, progressives are satisfied that Biden can be held accountable when needed. Social critic Noam Chomsky in a recent interview with columnist and writer Anand Giridharadas said, “The left position is [that] you rarely support anyone. You vote against the worst. You keep the pressure and activism going.” This is evident with most Democrats especially after the 2016 elections and with Biden’s rise in 2020. It is because supporters are naturally finding a middle ground with some of their strong views and opinions as most didn’t expect popular candidates like Sanders or Warren to endorse Biden but understand it is necessary to defeat Trump. As Chomsky rightly suggests, those critical of Biden must keep the pressure on - especially after he's voted into power. That is the beauty of democracy, the ability to hold those in power accountable. Hopefully, this will help keep the left less divided and more united.
So, if you are torn about not getting a progressive candidate on the left and feel failed by the electoral college, there are solutions both short and long-term. The short term solution is to steadily drive unification within the Democratic party and the long-term solution is rank-based voting. Rank-based or preference-based voting prevents plurality and appoints a majority winner as more votes are casted in the order of preference of an individual. This is certainly not happening under the Trump administration but can be considered with the Democrats. On the other hand, with the current economic collapse, Trump’s re-election campaign has become weak.
With the Black Lives Matter protests and the mishandling of the pandemic by the government, the promises of the left are appealing but peace and democracy are not brought back in a day. The stepping stones to it do look closer though.