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Democratic debates: “I know how the Democrats can win the 2020 election – but will they listen?”

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Alicia Lutes
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Democratic candidates need to stop focussing on middle class white voters if they want to be in with a chance of winning the 2020 election, says American writer Alicia Lutes. 

With the second round of the Democratic debates taking place this week, presidential hopefuls like Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Marianne Williamson are pulling out their key talking points. 

For most, this includes the usual classic hits but far and away the most popular one? The call to “unite” the right and the left, with more than a few dog whistles from the good ol’ boys about how we need to quiet down and acquiesce to the loudest group of all: middle class white male voters. To that I say: please think again.

Here’s why: The number of potential voters who are younger than 38, and/or are from minority populations, and/or are single women, represent 62.1% of the number of eligible voters in America, according to the Voter Participation Center using data from 2018. It’s expected to be 64% in 2020. That’s almost two-thirds of potential voters. That number is big. I am part of that 62.1% and I want to know why no one is talking to me about the issues I care about.

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The 62.1% care about a lot of things: equal rights and equal protections under the law; healthcare; the environment; better international diplomacy; most inclusive policies; the dismantling of voter suppression tactics; programs that empower economic stability for underserved communities—an America that remembers the “for all” in the old motto. It’s time our concerns got front-and-center treatment.

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If you were to listen to the likes of Trump or Biden or Beto O’Rourke, you’d think that we, as a country, must consider that the sum of our parts is a moderate, middle-incomed, middle-of-the-road registered voter, usually white, and oh-so-conveniently spread out amongst a certain key set of states (thanks to the electoral college, a conversation for another day). Winning that vote has long been the central talking point and political motivator, with little consideration for much else during elections, or from whence the idea of this voter was borne. It’s an incredibly short-sighted and ignorant assumption that’s carried on for centuries, and so commonplace, US politics seem to live and die by their whims.

This isn’t to say issues important to that middle-road part of the population should not be considered by political nominees, but the perceived weight we allow their voices and votes to carry should absolutely be examined if the Democrats want to win the 2020 elections. Especially when so much of it is fostering fear, racism, bigotry, and xenophobia. Fear is nothing more than a tool of the weak-minded, hellbent on control via oppression. 

And “the other” is always to blame. For too long, those scared people and their perceived needs take up most of the oxygen in the conversation. But enough is enough: looking to their voices alone does not represent what America is, nor is it our future. By acquiescing to their idea of what America looks like, the Democrats are forgetting about a huge portion of the population that could completely change the game and help them win.

Even though there was record turnout in the November 2018 midterm elections, only 49% of the people registered to vote actually did. Thirty percent of those registered to vote said they actively didn’t (the rest didn’t respond). And, conservatively speaking in estimation, at least 20% of the American population simply does not vote because they are not registered; the reasons as to why are many and varied. Looking at the breakdown of voting populations even further, the picture becomes clearer: voter registration laws intent on suppressing the vote of minorities worked, and it’s clear that the one voter base most encouraged to vote are the ones who are pandered to the most: white, older, mostly male (but don’t think I’m not forgetting about the 53% of white women who voted for Trump in 2016). 

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Democratic debates: the Democrats need to concentrate their efforts on convincing on the ‘53% of white women’ who voted for Trump in 2016

Perhaps, if the candidates showed up and spoke out in a way that showed they truly believed in—and understood, not in just a “my assistant gave me these topline notes” sort of way—the plight of the people, they could activate the eligible voters of America even more.

So what should the Democrats be talking about? The 62.1% are more likely to vote for equal rights and protections under the law regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation. They are more likely to support immigrants’ rights, removing refugees and undocumented (and documented) people from camps, and to dismantle systemic oppression and racism. They want to talk about, and maybe even try to heal the wounds of our country’s ugly past—they want to learn, and help people to learn, and move the country forward. 

The 62.1% is probably way down with healthcare for all and reducing the cost of medicine in general, as well as de-stigmatizing mental illness and various disabilities. If I were to put money on the issues that the 62.1% care about—because even if all you did was a basic Google of the groups that make up this percentage, they’re pretty clear to see—they’re based in economic and social policies that right our metaphorical ship and don’t crash into an iceberg that the wealthy in control think is actually Money Island. The 62.1% knows in their hearts that a rising tide lifts all boats. So maybe we’re the ones to which you should be pandering to, because if properly activated, we could stomp you all. 

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Sure, the 62.1% might not be as loud as the vocal minority, but that doesn’t mean we have less power in the voting booth—we just have to remind each other of how much stronger we are when we work together and reach out to those so often ignored, so long as the politicians start paying attention to our issues. Galvanising people to vote is what matters—because those issues and things the media may dismiss as small potatoes so often end up making the biggest impact.

Just look at the strides registering voters made to our politics last year: it not only played a major part in the resulting record turnouts during 2018’s midterm elections, it resulted in America getting the most diverse body of congress has ever seen. Registering and considering the needs of new and previously ignored voters, young and old, is what resulted in our 2018 good fortune. Florida and Georgia’s Democratic candidates made huge strides in registering new voters even in the face of suppression; SnapChat ushered in another 400,000, and Taylor Swift a couple thousand, too. 

And let us not forget about the many tenacious activists leading the way to give a voice to the often overlooked group of Americans woefully underserved by so many of our systems—like the disability activists who totally kicked ass in 2018, and will surely only continue to do more of the same in 2020. And don’t forget all the black women who tried to tell us. But it shouldn’t be their job alone: politicians need to step up.

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Democratic debates: Elizabeth Warren plans to tackle women’s issues if she becomes president.

Some feel like nothing in politics really changes regardless of who is in power—regardless of side. I see validity in both sides there: for white people, they’re generally always fine (relatively speaking) no matter who’s in the White House, while minorities are never not harassed, attacked, ignored, or put-upon. For some, voting is more of a logistical quandary than a philosophical one: they live very far away from voting stations that may or may not be accessible if they’re disabled; some are too intimidated to vote, and too many cannot get the time off from work and have to worry about childcare. Or miss school.

All of these obstacles are hurdles we can overcome before the election, if politicians paid better attention in a more public fashion. These things make a difference. It’s time more politicians truly speak for the people who are so often silenced, look to the people who are ignored for some answers to systemic problems that unduly hurt them more. 

Are there some people who aren’t going to like that, or who will actively make the choice not to vote or even register to vote, no matter what the Democrats do? Absolutely, and those are minds they will likely never change. 

Besides, you don’t want your base to be based on the whims of those voters anyway. But thankfully, it stands to reason if that those folks exist, an equal, inverse portion of that population—whose minds can be changed or can be excited about changing politics—also exist. Why not try and activate them to change the game in 2020? 

The more we work towards empowering the 62.1% to believe their vote can and should matter, and that the politicians they vote for will actually work for them, the better chance we have in the now for an even bigger, and better, later. 

Hey Democrats, keep your eyes on the 62.1% because soon they’ll be 64% - it’s just good strategy.

Images: Getty

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Alicia Lutes

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