Many liberal Democrats vote for the more moderate candidates in primaries, because they think half a loaf is better than none. The claim is that to win in the USA (or any first past the post system) you have to capture the middle. This is based on silly theory which requires the assumption that the set of eligible voters and the set of people who actually vote are the same. The contrasting view is that the key issue is getting people who might or might not vote (read young people) to the polls. The safe nominee can be risky. I want to make two arguments (after the jump)
1) There aren’t many swing voters. There aren’t all that many whose vote can’t be predicted right now given demographic characteristics.
2) The median US adult has policy preferences on bread and butter issues which are classified as left wing in the elite discussion, so going to the left of Hillary Clinton on those issues is a way to win their votes.
But first note how Democrats have done when playing safe. Mondale was the safe choice, Dukakis presented himself as a technocrat, Clinton was a DLC new Democrat welfare reforming capital punisher, Gore was the safe candidate (clearly to the right of Bradley), Kerry was the safe electable candidate. Black freshman senator Barack Hussein Obama was … you have got to be kidding me. H Clinton was the safe choice,
The record is crazy dream 1 out of 1, play it safe 1 out of 6. The crudest analysis of hardly any data points sure doesn’t suggest that it is good strategy to play it safe.
1) few Swing voters. I got this idea (leaked) from Karl Rove who is evil but did manage to get W Bush re-elected so he might know a trick or two. The key point is that actual voting by independents who lean Democratic/Republican is similar to that of self declared Democrats/Republicans. The true independents are non leaners and about 10% to max 15% of the public.
The extreme stability of Trump approval ratings — from high thirties to low forties — suggests few people have minds open enough to be swayed by a little light treason. Obama’s approval ratings were also extraordinarily stable by 20th century standards. The huge correlation of voting for Romney and for Trump shows that a huge difference in the candidates lead to a tiny difference in voting.
In contrast there are huge swings in turnout. The Democratic candidate has won one out of 4 elections with youth turnout under 40% and 3 out of 4 with youth turnout over 40%. Mid term youth turnout varies even more (or maybe 2018 was an extreme anomalie and besides 2020 is a Presidential year). When young people vote, Democrats win. When they don’t, Democrats lose.
2) where is the center? The elite definition is somewhere in between the Democratic and Republican parties (which must move towards the center to win). But issue polls show majority support for leftist positions on bread and butter issues. The median US adult is fringe left on many issues by elite DC standards.
The famous example is tax fairness (search for fair). For as long as Gallup has asked the question solid majorities say high income people and corporations pay less than their fair share in taxes. But the GOP is 100% dedicated to making that share even lower. Yet few Democratic presidential candidates run on higher taxes on high incomes lower on all other incomes. I can name two — Bill Clinton and Barack Obama (notice the pattern).
But there are also lefty answers on
15$ minimum wage
paid family leave
free public college
more generous social security pensions
More generous Medicare
More generous Medicaid
How to deal with
The ideas which moderate pundits and campaign consultants warn are dangerous and all which have majority support.