Per usual, the Democratic strategy for the 2020 Presidential Election utilized identity politics. The purpose of identity politics is to gain loyalty and voter allegiance simply by stating that a candidate belongs to or understands the struggles of a marginalized community.
In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Cressida Heyes encapsulates the contemporary origin of identity politics as the 1970s, a decade at the heart of multiple culture revolutions, like the Civil Rights, feminist, LGBT community and American Indian movements. Identity politics is a broad term that seeks to explain the causal relationship between membership of a social group and oppression; for example, being a Muslim American may make one more vulnerable. But, instead of complacency, identity politics seeks to alter the common perception and redefine the community.
President Elect-Biden’s recent victory has certainly earned celebration, but Democrats must recognize the standard identity politics strategy worked because this was an unconventional election, which saw unprecedented mail-in ballots –– which favor Democrats –– and a highly unpopular Republican candidate, Donald Trump. Identity politics cannot remain the mainstream tactic, and if Democrats aspire to see future wins, there must be an internal shift that offers solutions to marginalized communities’ issues, rather than echoing current concerns.
However, Heyes notes these revolutions often fail because the organization is unable to accurately pinpoint their critique; instead, there is a generalized claim that merely forms a blanket accusation.
It is fair to suspect that Biden won at the hands of true supporters of his policy coupled with those who adamantly wanted Donald Trump out of office. However, the future elections may not be this contentious or unique — Democrats cannot expect to win the next election using nationwide discontent with the sitting president.
Marik Von Rennenkampff, a contributor for The Hill, echoed similar claims. Pointing to the increase in minority votes for Donald Trump, Rennenkampff illustrates the need for Democrats to spend more time designing solutions to issues rather than employing the moral high ground strategy.
The Brookings Institute provided exit poll data which shows that compared to 2016, Democrats lost their margins of support from Black, Hispanic and Asian American voters by 6%, 5% and 11%, respectively. However, Republicans did lose their margin of support from white voters by 3%, going from 20% to 17%.
More importantly, while the Democratic Party won the White House, the Democrats in the House of Representatives lost ten seats while the Republicans lost zero. After a tight runoff race in Georgia, Democrats acquired two U.S. Senate seats, creating a 50-50 split between the two parties. Since Vice President Kamala Harris will serve as the tiebreaker, this puts Democrats in control of the senate.
Now, while the House also belongs to the Democrats, this past election revealed the truth that the identity politics strategy is not connecting with voters; and more clearly, it is not connecting with minority voters, the very audience the party claims to represent and defend.
Instead, Democrats should use identity politics as a base instead of their main argument. Instead of simply attempting to provide an option “better” than their opponents, the party needs to start representing and appealing to their target audience.
A popular point of contention is affirmative action, yet the Democrats have typically employed the defense that affirmative action is appropriate solely because of past discrimination. However, there are multiple other valid justifications, and moreover, past discrimination cannot extend in perpetuity. Democrats explain why affirmative action is not going to result in mass denials to white Americans; instead, it will increase the opportunities and overall income for minority groups, which will aid in lifting struggling families out of poverty.
Moreover, the Democrats could introduce opportunities to invest significantly more capital and financial resources in high schools located in inner-city neighborhoods and minority dense populations in order to reduce the need for affirmative action. Providing more advanced classes and opportunities for scholarships can provide minorities with the proper opportunity to invest and accelerate their progress. The idea that direct investments in education increase the socioeconomic standing of lower-class families is ideologically moderate, yet Democrats have not outright approached it. Case in point, a cost-benefits analysis is more appropriate than a justification based on immutable events in history.
Democrats need to explicitly clarify that police reform is not automatically synonymous with defunding the police. The strategy should focus on explaining why reducing police budgets and mandating all officers to work with functional body-cameras will increase public-law enforcement relations instead of eradicating one group.
By explaining that syphoning some money from police departments could aid in education or healthcare, people may realize how else we can benefit society. If there is some altercation, body cameras would eliminate the need for people to speculate and opportunities for others to misinform the public.
There are multiple other areas where Democrats need to clearly identify their message, like investments in alternative energy providing jobs. However, with identity politics, Democrats are effectively saying, “You are a minority who may or has faced oppression, and therefore, you should vote for us.”
Instead, Democrats should say: We understand there are still barriers that have not been dealt with, and here is a detailed plan of how we intend to use our resources to fix the problems still in our society.