Skoog: Don’t cast your ballot on electability assumptions

Caroline Skoog

For most of my life, I understood American Democracy to be a Gordian knot of compromises and settlements, taking and giving (primarily taking), like diplomatic gymnastics. Politicians and citizens alike eventually have to sacrifice their own moral code or abandon their endorsed values ⁠— that’s part of the deal. In turn, everyone gets a fraction of what they want and true progress is reduced to a happy, healthy middle. Cue the credits and roll “Created by Aaron Sorkin.” 

I think it’s safe to say that the civility-touting, idolized West Wing vision of the United States government croaked in 2016. For the left, it’s all hands on deck to beat Trump in the 2020 election. Even at the price of their own ideological instincts. Fifty-eight percent of registered Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents report prioritizing a candidate’s likelihood of beating Trump rather than the candidate’s stances on issues, according to Gallup. In an effort to not divide the Democratic vote, citizens suspend their true political ideals by assuming the tendencies of a communities they’ve never met and towns they’ve never been. “Electability” is a premature defense mechanism, and it does sound pragmatic at first. 

To reiterate, civility in politics is six feet under. Not to mention, Hillary didn’t win in 2016 and Donald Trump appeared to be the least electable candidate ever. Most of us were shocked. 

Electability is an abstract thing that we made up, and it’s bolting Democrats to the center of a political spectrum that keeps drifting right. It’s also rooted in archaic preconceived notions of what a president is: white, straight, Christian and male. Through this lens the safest bet is to revert to what the general public, or the moderate voters, were comfortable with a decade ago. Consequently, women and candidates of color are scrutinized secondhand. Avalanche Strategy conducted a study in which 62 percent of respondents expressed that America will not elect a woman, clarifying, “Their concerns are not about the capability of female candidates, so much as they are about the willingness of Americans to elect a woman.” Oh, of course I’m not sexist! But America is. Even if you identify as a feminist, a vote that’s tailored to an assumed public prejudice eclipses your principles entirely.

It’s too early in the campaign season to yield your vote to the faults of the two-party system. It’s a bad system, don’t get me wrong, but reflecting your true beliefs on the ballot, and not what you perceive someone else’s beliefs to be, is one of the only ways for a democracy to function. The primary election exists for a reason. Doesn’t it? 

Prioritizing electability, which seems to benefit Joe Biden the most, doesn’t account for the change in political conditions. The 2018 midterm election, for instance, had the highest voter turnout ever at 53 percent, compared to the usual 40 percent. If this increase in turnout continues throughout the 2020 election season, it’s crucial for the left to trust one another. This election poses a chance for structural change and social progress that can’t be replicated at the center of the spectrum. 

Should the left collectively play it safe and elect Joe Biden or one of the many moderate Democrats in the primary elections, it’s a missed opportunity to nominate a leader that can stand for something. One of the main grounds for political apathy is the outright hollowness of campaign promises, marginal or ineffective proposed policies, and the reputation of politicians devoid of any accountability toward the American public. Embracing another centrist-Democrat candidate can only fuel political indifference and reinforce the notion that civic engagement is a moot point, or that the Democratic party is inept at sparking progress. 

American Democracy is at an intersection of urgency and upheaval and now sounds like a good time to vote sincerely. Placing a vote based on polls this early in the election season, or on preconceived notions of another city’s tendencies, is planned obsolescence for the left.