As 2020 barrels closer, the race to determine the U.S. trajectory for the next four years is once again drawing near. In such a high-stakes contest to lead what arguably is still the dominant world hegemon, citizens should not settle for a president they don’t actually prefer.
When voters start heading to the polls come February, it’s easy to let electability take hold of the wheel. But if the primary driving force of our democracy today is, “Who can beat Donald Trump?” then we risk wrangling ourselves into a self-fulfilling prophecy of lackluster results.
Joe Biden remains at the top of the polls at this point in the Democratic primary, with the highest national polling average and most prolific media coverage. His campaign has centered heavily on the argument that, if nominated, he will defeat the incumbent president.
Biden’s first television advertisement, released late August, opened with this pitch. “We have to beat Donald Trump,” the narrator said. “And all the polls agree Joe Biden is the strongest Democrat to do the job.”
His wife and former second-lady Jill Biden said at an August campaign event in New Hampshire that while she is aware her husband does not fit every voter’s bill of an ideal nominee, electability remains first and foremost.
“You’ve got to look at who’s going to win this election,” Jill Biden said. “And maybe you have to swallow a little bit and say, ‘Okay, I personally like so-and-so better.’ But your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump.”
By relying on his perceived ability to merely win against Trump, Biden is running on a platform that emphasizes fear of the opponent rather than appeal of his own qualities. It’s a tactic that feeds upon voter desperation in place of candid support.
But when this is what your constituents’ demand, it’s tough not to succumb to the pressure. And of course, Biden is not the only one guilty. No candidate has made it this far without having prepared a response to the inevitable question: what makes them qualified to take down the sitting president?
Yet, this is a fruitless query. Every candidate still in the race is likely perfectly capable of challenging Trump. Even Biden himself has voiced this. If this is truly the reigning concern of the Democrats, then we can trust enough of them will unite behind the eventual nominee — no matter who he or she is — once general election season rolls around.
Up until the very end of the general election in 2016, numerous polls were still predicting a presidential victory for Hillary Clinton. That’s not to say public opinion polls can’t offer valuable data, but they do at times give rise to inaccurate speculation because the nuances of real life are just too diverse, too volatile.
Not every individual who votes will have been polled, just as not everybody polled will go out to vote. Moreover, any incident can break out moments before an election, shifting public sentiment in the final hour. Some unforeseen flaw or missing factor in the polling system can also misrepresent results.
But barring potential miscalculation, to let these numbers influence our own vote undermines the value of the suffrage we wield. Voting on the basis of electability in 2020 would mean casting your ballot for a president you may not be passionate for and yet, even then, you would have no guarantee that you chose the winning candidate.
With the presidential pool so varied for the Democrats this year, a great chunk of the general population, especially those who don’t actively follow national politics, aren’t keeping track of everyone running. This explains why big names like Biden, being a previous vice president, and Bernie Sanders, a popular candidate from the infamous 2016 presidential primaries, cruise to the top in national polls so consistently.
However, those who ultimately take the time to turn out on Election Day tend to be better informed and more purposeful about their ballot choices. Instead of hopping onto some second- or third- or seventh-choice bandwagon, we must remember true popular sovereignty requires an electorate that stands sincere to what it wants.
The privilege we hold to elect our own future should not lose its meaning to petty strategy. “Electability” is not the solution in 2020. Allowing it to become a major party’s guiding factor, even if it does lead it to victory, reinforces a political trend that erodes the intent of democracy.
So I challenge you this: when the time comes, vote simply for who you believe in — even if they are not who you believe will win.