North Star Steering Committee Statement on the Election and Our Tasks
A. Five Takeaways from the 2020 U.S. Election
1. Increased Turnout
Voter turnout was the highest in more than a century. About two-thirds of registered voters cast ballots. Despite concerns expressed in the run up to the election that Republicans were registering more new voters, first time voters, almost 1 in 7 of all voters, split for Biden 2:1. As a result, Biden’s strongest age demographic was voters 18-29 who gave him 60% of their votes. Overall, Biden lost male voters but more than made up for that by winning female voters.
2. Who Turned Out to Vote
Black, Latino, Asian American and Native American as well as young voters of all races were mobilized at record levels by volunteer field organizing efforts and energy of grassroots organizations, particularly in swing states. These groups, with many first time voters, provided the margins of victory for the Democratic candidates in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin, states that supported Trump in 2016. Although Trump kept much of his base of rural, non-college educated white voters, his margins among this group were smaller than in 2016. In Georgia, progressive Black-led organizations like Black Voters Matter, New Georgia Project and Fair Fight had registered 800,000 new voters, mainly younger voters and people of color. Groups associated with the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) and the Arizona LUCHA delivered record turnouts of Latino voters.
Progressive often speak of “the Latino vote” or the “POC vote” but this does not reflect on-the-ground realities. This is particularly true for Latinos, who are very diverse and whose voting power is undermined by the archaic Electoral College system that is the U.S. presidential election. Almost one-third of Latino voters live in California, a (today) reliably Democratic state and have been strongly Democratic for some time. However, Biden was unable to take Texas, where another one quarter of Latino voters reside as Trump maintained his (minority but still significant) Latino vote share. And Trump won Florida, whose very diverse Latino vote is divided among immigrants and communities with roots in the Caribbean (including Puerto Rico, Cuba and other), Latin America and Central American.
3. The Squad Triumphant – and Helping Biden Win Swing States
Two members of the Squad of Left Congressional Democrats were instrumental in driving Democratic voter turnout in the key states of Minnesota and Michigan. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar overcame Trump’s personal Twitter hate vendetta against her as a Muslim born in Somalia and the $10 million campaign funding for her Republican opponent, to win almost 65% of the vote in her race along with an incredible 88% turnout in Minneapolis that helped provided Biden’s margin of victory in Minnesota. Omar’s campaign featured in-person door-to-door canvassing that the Biden campaign did not do. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, also a Muslim and a DSA member, focused in Detroit/Wayne County on engaging some 200,000 voters who had not voted in 2016 to ensure her own re-election and help deliver Michigan to Biden.
4. The Campaign Messaging and the Vote Counting
During the Democratic primaries, the (seemingly endless) number of debates had focused on the policy differences and convergences among the large number of candidates. But the presidential election saw very little policy focus—by either party. As many commentators noted, this election was largely a referendum on Trump.
The national Democratic Party focused its efforts on massive TV advertising trying to persuade suburban swing voters who had voted for Trump in 2016 to vote for Biden and moderate Democratic Senate and House Democratic candidates in 2020. Biden’s messaging was that he would restore normalcy and decency to the White House and undo the harm wreaked by the Trump administration, which, probably because of the experience of Trump’s four years, made more sense for his own candidacy than Hillary Clinton’s failed “I’m not Trump” campaign did in 2016.
However, it did not much help down-ballot Democratic candidates, since it failed to deliver a positive or inspiring message to economically distressed former Democratic or independent voters. Democrats both failed to flip the 10 CDs they had targeted and lost a few net House seats, mainly of more conservative Democrats; two of the House losses were to Cuban American Republicans in Florida. More importantly and problematic for both the incoming Biden administration and the ability of the Left to win progressive policies, they failed to gain a majority in the Senate.
As noted above, much of Trump’s base support of rural voters, evangelical Christians and traditional Catholics, along with white men in general with less formal education, remained intact. He campaigned vigorously, ignoring corona virus precautions, and the Republican Party may have done a better job of turning out its voters through social media and direct canvassing than the Democratic Party did. But, as was the case for Biden, there was little if any policy message, reflecting the frequent cult-like nature of Trump’s support and a sobering reminder of where we find ourselves politically. He lost the popular vote by more than 6 million and the Electoral College vote by the same margin he won it in 2016.
Mail in and early in-person voting exploded in 2020 as the pandemic worried many, especially Democratic and independent voters. For states on the West Coast with long experience of these voting methods, there were very few problems or concerns. That was not the case in many other, especially swing, states and contributed to the drawn-out nature of the final decision.
The main television media did a fairly credible job of patiently waiting for all the votes to be counted, but Trump and the Republicans are still using right-wing and social media to spread disinformation and discredit the vote count where the final tallies narrowly favor Democrats. These efforts appear to be foundering.
5. The Election Heroes
Just as “essential workers” are the real heroes and heroines of the pandemic, postal workers, local and state election officials and volunteers may be the saviors of the tattered framework of American democracy. Whether Republicans or Democrats, they toiled for many days to ensure that every vote was counted as thoroughly and accurately as possible. Tens of thousands of Americans rallied throughout the country the day after Election Day to demand that every vote be counted, and a broad coalition of organizations remains on alert to mobilize millions more if Trump and his Republican enablers continue to try to thwart the will of the electorate.
B. The Tasks Ahead of Us
The dancing in the streets, the ringing of the church bells in France and other celebrations after Biden’s victory demonstrate the widespread disgust with Trump and his politics. But remember that 73 million of our citizens voted for him.
Today, every responsible organization of the broad American Left is preparing its members and supporters not only to defend democratic rights, but to mobilize to push for a broad progressive agenda, including racial justice, environmental justice, universal health care, immigration reform, and a just and equitable recovery from the pandemic.
Although progressives helped Obama to victory in 2008, the Left was not strong enough to drive an agenda that was other than a return to pre-Great Recession “normality,” and Obama’s vision was limited to that goal. This was a crisis that went to waste.
Because of the 2016 and 2020 campaigns of Sanders and the growth of POC (People of color organizations), we are stronger now, although we also face a more mobilized, self-conscious neo-fascist right. If the Biden presidency is unable to deliver more than some better, and less venal, appointed officials and executive orders reversing some of Trump’s mayhem against immigrants and the environment, it will lose credibility with its supporters. Substantive improvement is particularly important to retain the commitment of the large segment of voters who turned out for the first time. We must do all we can to insure that the midterm elections in 2022 do not result in a revival of Trumpist Republican reaction in an even more virulent form.
1. Three Immediate Tasks
The first immediate priority has to be remaining vigilant against a “soft coup” aimed at keeping Trump in the White House. The second, a definite long-shot, has to be a last-ditch attempt to block a Republican majority in the Senate. With two Senate seats at stake in January 2021 run-off elections in Georgia, victories of the two Democratic candidates would knot the Senate at 50 Republicans/50 Democrats, with Vice-President Kamala Harris breaking the ties. That result would not only ease the stranglehold on the legislative process currently exerted by Mitch McConnell’s Republican majority, it also would make it more difficult for the Democratic Party to claim it is not responsible for failing to enact progressive reform legislation.
An equally important task is to combat the right-wing effort, led by Trump and his GOP minions, to delegitimize the election results. They may not be successful in reversing the outcome, but their goal is also to constrain or even eliminate the ability of Biden and Harris to govern. They seek to do this both institutionally by making obstruction the primary function of the senate and culturally by casting doubts in any way shape and form possible on the reality of the election outcome. This despite the growing gap in the popular vote where Biden’s lead has grown to more than 6 million votes and may approach 7.5 million by the end of the vote count.
2. The Intermediate Term Tasks
As we argued above, the Left must work harder than we ever have before, to avoid another crisis going to waste. And, surprisingly enough, Biden’s first post-election policy speech has told us exactly where to focus our time and energies. He articulated four priorities for the incoming administration: economic recovery, combatting COVID-19, racial justice and climate change.
Importantly, Biden’s economic and health advisors understand that numbers one and two are not either/or; they are possible only as both. No success against COVID-19 = no economic recovery for the majority of our people. We must pressure—whether by contacting our legislators, organizing in our communities or agitating in the streets—for an economic package that includes direct payments to working people, a national testing and tracking regime, a coherent plan for distributing whatever vaccine(s) become available and funding for state and local governments. A major reason for the very slow recovery from the Great Recession was the failure to provide the last piece in this legislation. And the resulting slow return of jobs and public services in part nourished Trump and Trumpism.
The Left must play a key role in demanding that a Covid-19/economic recovery plan prioritizes the needs of the most vulnerable communities and persons, especially African-Americans, Latino/a, Native Americans and immigrants.
In the next period it may be the area of climate change where there are the most openings for the Left. Although Trump and his minions have clung to the “climate change is a hoax” meme, that has lost ground, even among self-identified Republicans. It has also lost ground among members of our economic elite, and there are state governors and legislatures that now take climate change seriously. Late and too little, but the ground is being laid for an energy regime transition.
Although the Biden administration will be able to use executive orders to undo some of the worst regulatory damages done by the Trump administration, it is not likely to advocate or enact a sweeping Green New Deal program adequate to the scale of the emergency. We will fight for a major national infrastructure program that creates millions of good unionized jobs through renewable energy and retrofitting public and private housing. However expanding the positive and exemplary role of state and local governments will be a crucial arena for the struggle for environmental justice that prioritizes vulnerable communities.
3. A Final Consideration
We didn’t fall over the precipice as a victorious re-election of Trump would have represented, but we remain too close to the rim of destruction for U.S. democracy. Democratic socialists defend democracy in order to deepen and extend it further so that the broad working class has more decision-making power. It is sobering to note that a majority of white voters still voted for an incompetent, egocentric demagogue who demonized immigrants and Blacks to try to maintain power. If Trump had not blundered so egregiously by denying the pandemic, he might have been re-elected despite his low approval ratings.
Democratic primary voters and Democratic Party leaders played it safe with Joe Biden, with the resulting lack of any ambitious reform program articulated during the campaign. The restoration of the Obama era message worked—just.
At best, with the 2020 election we barely escaped from the beaches of Dunkirk. We remain too distant from D-Day.
Statement authored by members Paul Garver and Bill Barclay at the invitation of the NS Steering Committee. Statement is by the NS Steering Committee.
Comments are welcome.
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