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  • Jaliana Griesbach

Democrats Divided: Is Trump to Blame?

Throughout the 2020 election, President-elect Joe Biden has repeatedly said he is a proud Democrat who vows to be a president for all Americans.

He centered his campaign around messages of unity and moderate Democratic policies. Biden’s messaging played a key role in his victory, but as was evident in the Democratic primary and in any two-party system, Democrats are still split by ideological differences.

Recently, the divide between moderate and progressive Democrats took center stage on Twitter after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweeted a photo of her appearing to glare at Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.VA) after he expressed his opposition to more progressive policies like defunding the police and ending the Senate filibuster.

“Defund the police? Defund, my butt. I'm a proud West Virginia Democrat. We are the party of working men and women. We want to protect Americans' jobs & healthcare. We do not have some crazy socialist agenda, and we do not believe in defunding the police," Manchin wrote on Twitter.

The Twitter posts come as the Democrats grapple with what went wrong in the elections this year after underperforming in key districts. More centrist Democrats are accusing progressive members in districts like Ocasio-Cortez's of sabotaging their chances in swing districts. Still, Manchin and Ocasio-Cortez represent just two of the factions that the Democrats have split into.

So, just how many factions are in the Democratic Party as of today, and what do they stand for? The party can be loosely broken down into three factions with specific wings in each.

Centrist Faction

The centrist faction includes conservative Democrats like Manchin, who support many big government policies but often offer modest support of large progressive economic and social issues. These Democrats are often part of the Blue Dog Coalition, which prioritizes pragmatic solutions to critical issues, "pursuing fiscal responsibility, ensuring a strong national defense, and transcending party lines to get things done for the American people.”

Within the centrist faction, libertarian Democrats like Colorado’s Gov. Jared Polis also exist. Polis supports universal health care and renewable energy, but his libertarian views push him to lower income taxes and avoid government regulation in the economy. Libertarian Democrats are part of the Democratic Freedom Caucus, which values “individual liberty, constitutional democracy, and social responsibility.”

Moderate Democrats are generally in favor of more limited government, but socially liberal policies. Most moderate Democrats are part of the New Democrat Coalition started by Bill Clinton in 1994.

Center-Left Faction

Within the center-left faction are liberals and progressives. Liberals emphasize civil rights, environmentalism and reproductive rights, as well as more liberal social programs. Former President Barack Obama’s 2008 victory was seen as more of win for the left, compared to his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton.

The progressives of the center-left faction are usually a part of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and include people like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). They tend to be more socially progressive and favor mixed economic policies.

Left-Wing Faction

The left-wing faction consists of democratic socialists who, like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Ocasio-Cortez, are anti-establishment and very liberal on economic and cultural issues. They generally see the Democratic Party as overly cautious in its policies and political approach.

Understanding the ideologies of the party sparks the question of whether or not Democrats became more divided in recent years and if the future of the party looks more divided.

A 2015 Gallup poll found a record 45% of Democrats identify as liberals — a rise from 29% in 2000. The research showed that this was likely due to increased socially liberal viewpoints. In 2019, the Pew Research Center found 47% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters identified as liberal or very liberal, while 51% identified as moderate, conservative or very conservative.

That study made a key revelation that the number Democratic voters who identify as liberal changed very little during Trump’s presidency after increasing steadily between 2000 and 2016.

Even though Trump’s presidency polarized the country, it seemed to have little to no impact on the overall divisions within the Democratic Party, as the more liberal wings with Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez were already growing their presence.

The Trump administration often called out the liberal wings of the Democratic Party, citing fears of socialism and more government control. To combat those messages, Democrats had to decide whether to back a more moderate or progressive candidate.

The party, however, did unite in 2020 under the one belief that Trump needed to be defeated, and ultimately chose Biden as its moderate nominee.

With Biden preparing to start his term in January, Democrats will be dealing with their internal ideological split and trying to find some common ground in order to get behind the Biden administration’s policy agenda.


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