The Democrats’ Lack of Populist Instincts "Joe Biden Accepts the Nomination for the Democratic Party's Ticket for President of the United States - Wilmington, DE - August 20, 2020" by Biden For President is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

The Democrats’ Lack of Populist Instincts

Despite what Republicans or Trump say, the 2020 presidential election is over. Biden leads Trump in votes with nearly 80 million going to Biden and Trump trailing by about 7 million with 73 million votes. Democrats can say they won, a narrow win, yet still a win. But Democrats are starting to show signs that they learned the wrong lessons from this election already. This election boasts a record turnout, and typically when turnout is high, the Republicans lose by a lot. However in this election, the Republicans lost by a smaller margin than was previously predicted. As a consequence, Democrats seem to be learning that they can win the White House without appealing to the wider population of America. Dangerously, this lack of populist appeal now seems to be a permanent characteristic of the Democratic Party. Their main tactic recently has been to win over Republican voters by adopting or slightly altering Republican policies. Despite the fact that Republican policies, by and large, are vastly more unpopular than those proposed by someone far more left leaning like Bernie Sanders.

Republican policies are even less popular among Republicans when contrasted to more leftist policies. Joe Biden used a typical Republican line when he said he would not support Medicare for all, citing that it would be too expensive. Both establishment Democrats and the whole Republican Party agree that America will not and should not have Medicare for all. Yet a Fox news poll shows that 72% of viewers would like a government run health care plan, and well over half of these viewers even want the policy that both Bernie Sanders and “the Squad” have been advocating. When Democrats make a play for Republicans by repurposing these popular leftist policies, the leftist origin is never brought up and often outright rejected. This means it comes with some success for the policies, but not the candidates. Yet this strategy saw almost no gains in Republican voters for Democrats. In fact, in the down ballot races, Republicans won extensively, retaking some seats in the House of Representatives and reducing the Democrats’ hope for success in the Senate to a split 50-50 decided by the Vice President. Although Democrats won the White House, even the victory here was very narrow and due more to the bad taste left in voters’ mouths after four years of Trump than the popularity of Joe Biden and his platform.

Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez has pointed out that every Democrat who opposed Medicare for all lost, and every Democrat who backed Medicare for all won. Leftist policies are very popular across America, even in voting blocs that would not normally vote for leftist policies. In Florida for example, a state that went for Trump, voters voted to increase the minimum wage to 15 dollars. Yet Democrats are more likely to blame the more left leaning members of the party than they are to adopt any sort of leftist policy. Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez recently gave an interview expressing her concern over the direction of the party and its failure to truthfully assess their successes and failures. She talks about how the Democrats frequently seem to blame some of their losses on the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement so widespread and popular in America that small towns that had never seen a protest began to get involved. This interview reveals a lot about what Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez sees wrong with the Democratic Party and how her concerns are often dismissed. Yet Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez is the 11th most popular Democrat in the party, she has a lot of clout within the party and among voters, and she is younger than most of the members of the party who are currently sitting in office. Nevertheless, she alludes to how her ideas and warnings have gone unheard, despite the potential she brings to the future of the party. 

The Democratic Party’s dismissal of more popular candidates, policies, and even ideas is nothing new. In an article for the Atlantic titled How Democrats Killed their Populace Soul, Matt Stoller writes about how the Watergate Babies of the 70s transformed the Democratic Party from a populist party to a party against the very ideas that fed the populist spirit in the first place. Even Barack Obama, who ran on one of the most left leaning platforms ever, fell into some of the same anti-populist habits that had been established long ago. By the time Obama ran for the presidency, the Democratic Party was already well entrenched in institutions that had become increasingly out of touch with the American population. For example, Stoller documents how by the time Obama entered the White House, “‘left-wing’ meant opposing war, supporting social tolerance, advocating environmentalism, and accepting corporatism and big finance while also seeking redistribution via taxes.”  Unsurprisingly then, but nonetheless troubling, today’s mainstream Democrats don’t see policies that go against the interests of corporations as integral to the Democratic Party–but as unreasonable demands of the radical left and troublemakers like the Squad. 

Ultimately, the Democratic Party’s populist instincts are broken if they exist at all. Mainstream Democrats act as though they are in tune with the American public, but they are not. Nancy Pelosi’s attempt to reach out to the American voter seems alienating at best when her multi-million dollar house and very large fridge is taken into account. Congressmen and women wearing African print and taking a knee is a touching tribute, but ultimately accomplishes nothing and seems even grotesque when one realizes that this is the same party that was pushing the Biden-Harris ticket. Kamala Harris, who once called herself California’s “top cop,” had a disastrous record as San Francisco’s District Attorney, especially for many minority populations. In this regard, the choice of Kamala Harris as Biden’s running mate seems antithetical to the very substance of the Black Lives Matter movement. Sadly, the Democratic Party does not put any effort into actually trying to figure out, or even properly reflect, what a real grass-roots movement wants. 

The Democratic Party is even starting to reject the idea that they have to be popular in the first place. If Biden’s potential picks for his cabinet are anything to go off of, then the Democrats have completely bent to the will of corporations over the will of the people. Biden’s cabinet consists of a smattering of CEOs and even former Bush cabinet members. In other words, the Biden administration is going to be about as out of touch with America as Trump was. Consequently, this suggests that his presidency will be devoid of popular appeal to the vast majority of working class Americans. 

The Democrats lack the fundamental drive, knowledge, and desire to become a more populist party and this means that left wing politicians and policies will be outside the pale of possibilities within the Democratic Party until this is rectified. As a consequence, the American public–the actual American public that consists of workers–will have their needs ignored and the solutions to their problems derided as too radical. And perhaps even more disastrously, America will remain polarized. Despite the fact that there are leftist policies that Republican voters want, mainstream Democrats have failed to take a stand for these policies which could be one route out of America’s current polarization and toward a renewal of the Democratic Party. Both Republicans and Democrats are proving more and more that the two-party system is out of touch and obsolete. If Democrats do not start the long, hard project of actually reflecting their supposedly “progressive” positions, then the workers of America–the vast majority of those laboring, loving, and living in America–should create their own political party.