What does it really mean to be electable in 2020? 

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Elecatability carries more weight than ever in elections, with candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders leading the pack.  Photo from the Associated Press.

Elecatability carries more weight than ever in elections, with candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders leading the pack. Photo from the Associated Press.

If you have been following any coverage of the 2020 Democratic primary you have inevitably heard talk of “electability,” and its merit when discussing who Democrats should nominate to be the candidate that eventually squares off against President Trump. The term, however, is far more ambiguous than common discourse would lead you to believe. When defined simply, electability is the capacity to win an election. When further explored and put in the context of a 2020 election, the term takes on quite a bit of nuance.  

The two candidates to which this debate largely applies are former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. The former, being seen as the “safe” choice to defeat Donald Trump, has garnered the support of many moderate voters who say their number one priority is defeating the president in November. The latter is seen as an outsider whose further left leaning policies would turn off moderate voters thus leading to cataclysmic loss and another four years of Trump. This ideology, however, is severely flawed as it depends on a lackluster conception of what it means to be electable in 2020.  


The Democratic Party’s thought process in 2016 as illustrated by majority leader Chuck Schumer turned out to be their downfall as they suffered losses in all three.  Photo from the Associated Press.

The Democratic Party’s thought process in 2016 as illustrated by majority leader Chuck Schumer turned out to be their downfall as they suffered losses in all three. Photo from the Associated Press.

To understand the flaws situated in this preconceived notion it would do us well to take a trip down memory lane. In 2016, Hillary Clinton also was the moderate candidate, and while her loss is far more nuanced than the binary distinction between moderate and progressive, it shows that being in the middle does not always translate to electoral success. The Democratic Party’s thought process in 2016 as illustrated by majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was, “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.” As it turns out, this philosophy would be their downfall as they suffered losses in all three of those crucial swing states mentioned. What backed this ideology was the idea that appealing to moderate, independent voters is more important than turning out the reliable Democratic base that had brought so much success in 2008 and 2012. Clinton failed to turn out working class and African American voters in the three major metropolitan areas in these aforementioned states: Philadelphia, Detroit and Milwaukee.  

The lessons that can be taken from 2016 are still poignant in 2020. Common discourse largely dictates we should nominate Biden because of his less inflammatory policy ideas and thus his appeal to the average voter in middle America. But in the quest of returning the “blue wall” to Democrats in 2020, it is important to dive deeper. Sanders has had previous success in both Michigan and Wisconsin, as illustrated by his primary wins there in 2016. His appeal to working class voters is pervasive and essential to a coalition that brings back the demographic that Democrats once had a vice grip on. Backed by empirical evidence and polling, middle America prefers a Sanders platform to a Biden one.  


Biden is currently leading with African American voters while Sanders sits in second place.  Photo from the Associated Press.

Biden is currently leading with African American voters while Sanders sits in second place. Photo from the Associated Press.

 To give credit to the Biden campaign, he is currently leading with African American voters while Sanders sits in second place. However, it is important to make the distinction that turning out African American voters in a Democratic primary is far different than turning out those same voters in a general election. The former vice president has seen a substantial nosedive in polling when it comes to enthusiasm around voting for his campaign. This does not bode well to recapturing those lost demographic categories that led to a Donald Trump presidency. On the other hand, Senator Sanders has a plethora of metrics that not only show that he can do what Biden can’t in terms of reclaiming the blue wall, but also excite the country like no presidential candidate has done in years past. At this point in the primary cycle, no other candidate has ever had more donations, individual donations or volunteers. These staggering numbers show that people are genuinely invested in a potential Sanders presidency, unlike any other potential Democratic opponent.  

With these arguments laid out, it is important to look at the big picture. Biden currently leads national polling, while both he and Sanders vie for the lead in early state polls. In the leadup to the Iowa Caucus, Democrats must truly understand why they choose a certain candidate. If their number one priority is to truly defeat Trump, then a Biden presidency seems doomed to follow the same path that saw us lose the White House in 2016.  

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.


Arjun Ahuja is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at arjun.ahuja@uconn.edu.

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