By Anna Noble
The Democrats were both the biggest winners and the losers in November’s election. They won the presidency and turned two historically Republican states blue. However, looking beyond the presidency, the Democrats had a disastrous night.
The polls predicted much more success. The Economist predicted on the eve of the election that the Democrats had a 99% chance of winning the House, suggesting a Democratic majority of 227-264 seats, with 12 races left to call the Democrats lost seats and have a slim majority of 219 seats. Similarly, in the Senate, they predicted that there was an 80% chance of them gaining a majority in the Senate, predicting they would gain around 52 seats; so far, the Democrats have 48 seats, with two races going to run offs in January, the Democrats would need to win both to gain a majority. Similarly, the Democrats failed to flip any state legislatures.
This is a significant failing on their part which at federal level may hamper Joe Biden’s agenda and shut the Democrats out of many state-level decisions on abortion access, gun control, police reform and crucially, district boundaries.
So why did the Democrats underperform expectations so badly?
Firstly, it should be considered that the Democrats overestimated how much voter turnout would help their chances. David Weigel, for The Washington Post, writes that the Democrats “won the White House and lost a myth about turnout”. It is difficult to argue that this statement is untrue, more people voted in this elected than had voted in any election for over 100 years. Yet, voters were apathetic towards the Democratic party.
Secondly, it has been suggested by multiple commentators that the Democrats got “cocky”. Their sole united platform appeared to be to get rid of Trump and they appeared to presume that the Pandemic and renewed racial tensions would be enough to take them across the finish line in many races. However, this did not happen. It should also be considered that the Democrats have been perceived as having an identity crisis, becoming significantly divided in the run up to primary elections on matters such as healthcare, whereas the vast majority of Republicans have rallied behind Donald Trump for the past four years. Following the disappointing results for Democrats, divisions and the blame game has been reignited amongst the party.
This leads to a third consideration. It has been argued that the Democrats underperformed due to fears that they were adopting a “radical left” stance, with “socialist” policies. Donald Trump and Conservative commentators have spent much of the past few years accusing the Democrats, in particular new, young progressive Democrats dubbed ‘The Squad’ – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. Such causations became more prevalent after the Black Lives Matter protests resulted in calls to ‘defund the police’, even following the election these claims persist, often perpetuated by false information such as, newly elected Alabama senator Tommy Tuberville claiming the Democrats represented socialism, which his father had fought against in the Second World War. This of course is historically inaccurate; the Americans joined the allied forces – including the USSR – to defeat Nazi Germany.
Whilst it is easy to dismiss such accusations as absurd, particularly as they are often backed by inaccuracies and the fact that ideologically the Democrats are further right, than many European right-leaning parties, such as the British Conservative Party. However, it appears these accusations were too quickly dismissed, and little consideration was paid to the ‘post-truth’, anti-‘mainstream media’ narrative sweeping across parts of America. The Trump administration has eroded the concept of truth by peddling baseless conspiracy theories as fact and infamously dubbed downright lies as ‘alternative facts’. Perhaps, given this context the Democrats were too quick to dismiss such concerns, failing to offer a significant enough rebuke. Democratic Virginia congresswomen Abigail Spanberger launched a furious attack on fellow Democrats arguing that their failure to address the ‘defund the police’ message and talk of socialism lost the Democrats votes and nearly cost her her seat.
Image: Matt Johnson via Flickr