Supporters of the 2020 Democratic ticket came to a consensus regarding the general election — there is no room for “moral high ground." A third-party vote is a vote for Trump, they might say.
Joe Biden’s underwhelming candidacy isn’t shocking. He’s turning to the right for support rather than prioritizing compromise with the left.
Unbothered by the campaign’s tendency to disregard progressive proposals, moderate Democrats demonize the left for their disgruntled attitude instead of pressuring the Democratic establishment to consider policies the left supports. This leaves progressives feeling isolated and expendable. Unsurprisingly, members of the left have little desire to vote for Biden in November, myself included.
Following Bernie Sanders’ exit from the race in April, former Sanders and Warren supporters formed “Settle for Biden.” The social media coalition acknowledges young voters’ dissatisfaction with Biden while highlighting his decency relative to Donald Trump.
The polling data also reflects a lackluster nominee. Last month, 56% of registered voters planning to vote for Biden said their support stemmed from the fact that he isn’t Trump. More concerning however, only 9% cited his policy positions and 14% didn’t know why they were voting for Biden.
Biden capitalized on the perilous reality of a Trump reelection to mold his strategy. To address conservative and moderate Democrats, his campaign adopted an approach emphasizing character over policy. This branch of the party is now set in the belief that a Biden presidency is comparatively better than a Trump presidency.
The campaign pandered to moderate Republicans by ignoring progressive initiatives. With the Democratic base locked in, the party has no qualms with standing firm in their agenda. For example, Biden spoke out last week refusing to support a ban on fracking, making some wary of his promise to embrace more radical tenets of the Green New Deal. Inviting Republicans, such as former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, to speak at the DNC was another effort to bolster Republican confidence in Biden's candidacy.
This strategy enables Biden to avoid accusations made by Republicans concerning the campaign’s lack of identity while still addressing Democrats' disdain for the president.
Herein lies the left’s criticism.
Albeit an effective tactic to broaden appeal, the campaign abandoned the young progressives of the Democratic party while making a Biden victory contingent on unconditional party unity. This doesn’t sit well with a faction already troubled by Biden and Kamala Harris’ history on issues such as criminal justice reform.
Scapegoating third-party voters for taking away votes from Hillary Clinton in 2016, and preemptively for Trump’s reelection, has implications beyond 2020. The notion that a third-party vote is a “wasted” vote only reinforces the two-party system, leading to inconsistent party identities and further radicalization within parties.
Trump’s political affiliation was volatile from 1987 through 2009, when he identified as a Republican, Democrat and Independent in the span of two decades. Between 1989 and 2009, Trump donated more money to Democrats than he did Republicans.
He ran a presidential campaign in 2000 for the Reform Party's nomination. He withdrew after four months, citing party disarray. Trump then decided to run under the guise of the GOP in 2016. Whether Trump is an embodiment of shadow conservatism is a debate left to academics.
Nonetheless, radical candidates such as Trump will become more common if we continue to undermine the viability of a third-party option.
Forcing voters to choose between two parties, with the potential neither remotely characterizes their views, causes the individual to view the party as a vehicle. Once an Independent seemingly assumes the identity of a party and rises to a position of power, the party’s identity is questioned. This increases political polarization in a self-reinforcing dynamic known as a “doom-loop,” where the purpose of politics is now to respond to the radicalization of the other extreme. This leaves little room for moderate positions and ignores the true objective of politics.
Proportional representation is an obvious solution to support a multi-party system. Proportional representation differs from a single-member district system in that voters cast their ballot within larger, multi-member districts. If a party wins 25% of the vote within a twelve member district, the party wins three seats. While this type of reform requires legislative action, ending harmful rhetoric which accelerates the doom-loop is a step everyone can take now.
Failure to turn inward and criticize the Democratic party’s refusal to accommodate progressive policy results in greater factions within the left. Blaming the voter instead of the institution prevents progressive unity because the establishment becomes comfortable with the “lesser of two evils” metric they’ve forced voters to adopt.
Katelyn Balakir (she/her) is a junior studying policy analysis and world political systems. She is a member of Indiana Model United Nations.