It is conventional wisdom that Joe Biden is the Democratic candidate most likely to beat President Donald Trump. However, the data demonstrate that a populist Democratic Presidential candidate is more likely to triumph over Donald Trump than any Democratic candidate who could be described as “Hillary v2.0.”
America knows Joe Biden and his policies, he can be expected to espouse many of the same policies as President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton; assuredly he will also promise to return the Office of the President to decency, and America to the governance structure which predated Trump (albeit political scientists have concluded that a return to our former governance structure is extremely unlikely). Clearly, Joe Biden is the Democratic Party’s “Hillary v2.0” candidate.
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2016
Despite a stellar resume, Ms. Clinton lost the Electoral College. Based on this fact alone, it is irrational to assume that a second round of Hillary v2.0 vs Trump will result in an alternative outcome.
Ms. Clinton lost to Mr. Trump for at least two reasons. The first is that her campaign failed to recognize that many Americans were furious that they had seen decades of economic stagnation while our country’s elite became increasingly wealthy and lived by a set of rules that were exclusive to their demographic group. The second reason is that she failed to generate enthusiasm among her core demographic supporters.
Trump ran on a platform of radical change. He promised to rearrange the levers of power in favor of the little guy, to disempower the coastal elites and drain the swamp. Because his message resonated with many Americans, he engendered a lot of enthusiasm and a high voter turnout among his core supporters.
While the American economy has grown about 2% per year since 2010, the economic benefits of the growing economy have not been distributed equitably.
- From 1979 to 2015 the top 1% of Americans increased their after-tax income more than 4 times as much as America’s middle class increased income
- In 2012, the top 1% received 25% of the entire US economic pie.
- Unlike other advanced industrial economies, the USA has no Federal mandates which guarantee workers maternity leave, vacation days or sick days.
- When compared to the other advanced industrial economies, the US has an extremely low minimum wage and an extremely high percentage of low paid workers.
- In 2013 the US ranked as the 6th worst country for income inequities among 173 countries
Lawrence Lessig, in his book America, Compromised, has shown that the public’s perception of an inequitable America is not an illusion. These inequities extend into our political, legal, educational and economic systems. The very pinnacle of America’s socioeconomic strata have corrupted the underlying purposes of our public and private institutions into serving their interests rather than the needs of the many.
As the inequity problem has only continued to get worse, and Americans confidence in our Federal officials is at a historic low, it should not be a surprise that these “frustrated” voters were looking for a candidate of radical change in 2016 and will again be doing so in 2020. It is also reasonable to assume that any Democratic Presidential candidate who can be objectively described as Hillary v2.0 and runs a campaign promising to return America to the Obama era will not appeal to this “frustrated” electoral demographic.
Given this backdrop, what lessons can be gleaned from the “data” which would help guide the Democratic Primary voter who is looking to dethrone Trump?
THE DATA: ESSENTIAL DEMOGRAPHIC GROUPS
THE YOUNGER VOTER
In the 2016 and 2018 election, the total number of votes cast by those born after 1981 (Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z) exceeded the number of votes cast by the boomers and older demographic groups. If these voting trends are a harbinger of the future, we can reasonably anticipate that the younger voter will account for >55-60% of the total votes cast in the 2020 election (Pew Research Center.) Among this younger demographic, Trump’s approval rating is <30% and his disapproval rating is about 59%. Clearly, this is a demographic group that the Democrats must court aggressively.
THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN VOTER
The second demographic which has the power to change the 2020 electoral outcome is African-Americans. We saw their power during President Obama’s 2008 campaign and again in the 2018 Alabama contest for Governor when a liberal African-American woman (Stacie Abrams) nearly won the Governorship of one of America’s most conservative states. Unfortunately, Clinton failed to generate much “enthusiasm” for her candidacy within the African-American community. As a result, the number of registered African-American voters and their voter turnout was lower in the 2016 election than in the 2012 election. This translated into about 1.5 million fewer votes for Ms. Clinton.
THE OBAMA TO TRUMP VOTER
Since Trump’s inauguration, 35-45% of the country have demonstrated that they will support Trump even if he “shoots somebody on Fifth Avenue.” That segment of the electorate needs to be written off as they will never vote to remove Trump from office. Never. Recall, even President Nixon retained the support of 25% of the public on the day he left office.
One can also expect that about 40-45% of the electorate are reliable Democratic voters, regardless of the candidate.
The 2020 Presidential campaign will be directed at the 10-20% of voters who are neither reliable Republican nor Democratic voters.
About 128 million total votes were cast in the 2016 Presidential election. Approximately 6-9 million people who voted for Obama in 2012 also voted for Trump in 2016. Given the wide chasm which separates the political philosophies and moral behaviors of these two men, one must ask why these voters cast the votes they did. Clearly, they did not vote for Trump because they were racists or bigots; if that were the case, they never would have voted for Obama in 2012.
I believe the most probable reason these former Obama supporters voted for Trump in 2016 is that they were among those Americans who could no longer stomach the inequities they saw in America, they are part of the “frustrated” demographic discussed above. They refused to cast their vote for a candidate who was perceived as “more of the same.” Instead, they cast their 2016 vote for the radical candidate who promised to tear down the economic, political, legal and educational barriers which are the pillars for inequity in America and which impede their ability to advance. As inequity in America has persisted, it is likely that the Obama-Trump voter will again be looking for the candidate who advocates for the radical restoration of an egalitarian America. Thus, a Democrat Hillary v2.0 candidate is unlikely to make headway with the Obama-Trump voter.
WHAT SHOULD BE THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY PLATFORM?
A Pew Research Poll (2019) assessed how self-described political groups aligned on contemporary political issues. Below is a chart of the subset of “independents” data. The column on the right is the mathematical difference between the “liberal” and the “conservative” positions, in which a positive value implies more support for the “liberal” position and a negative number implies more support for the conservative position.
When the data is presented this way, it is clear that independents overwhelmingly favor the liberal positions. Thus, the Democrats would do well to court the independents by adopting the “more liberal” position as there appears to be little downside to this strategy.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
While many Democrats will suggest that it would be “too radical” for the Party to aggressively support a more equitable America, the Pew Research data found that 63% of ALL voters agree with the statement that the US economic system “unfairly favors powerful interests.” Clearly, Trump’s failure to create a more equitable America provides a large opening for the Democratic candidate who can honestly campaign aggressively to end inequities in America and who proposes concrete solutions to remedy the problem. Just as clearly, no Democratic Presidential candidate who can be described as “Hillary v2.0” will be able to make the argument to the electorate that they are a candidate for change.
Voter turn-out will also be of paramount importance in the 2020 election and this will require that a candidate that can generate enthusiasm among the African-American community, the new, younger voters and the Obama-Trump voters. Not all of the current Democratic Presidential candidates have the charisma required to run a positive and movement-like campaign. And as demonstrated above, a “Hillary v2.0” candidate will certainly not generate the requisite enthusiasm which will be required to win. And nobody who has seen Joe Biden campaign would argue that campaigning is his forte.
Joe Biden is most assuredly a “Hillary v2.0” candidate, and given all of the above, it is difficult to see how he is the best Democratic candidate.
I thank Mr. Biden for his service to our country. For the sake of our country, it is time for him to step aside.
Hayward Zwerling, M.D.