Opinion | Will Democrats avert electoral doom?

Nominating exciting, but moderate candidates wins elections.


Ayrton Breckenridge

A voter fills out their ballot on Election Day at Horace Mann Elementary School in Iowa City on Nov. 2, 2021. This year’s election is centered on local city councils and school boards.

Shahab Khan, Opinions Columnist

It’s not a matter of if national and state Democrats are going to lose in the upcoming midterm elections but rather by how much.

When Democrats conduct a post-mortem on their 2022 election strategy, they must relearn the basic lesson of electoral candidates: Running personable candidates that can appeal to voters with “middle ground” views will win you most elections.

In other words, Democrats must focus on nominating candidates who hold incrementalist policy preferences while at the same time can bring excitement to elections.

Between progressives and the “popularists” there is agreement on some basic truths of why the midterms will not go well for Democrats. Historical trends show whichever party controls the presidency will lose seats in the House of Representatives.

This trend is largely due to the thermostatic nature of politics that makes it so the majority party is blamed for every problem the country is facing.

Finally, the map of the senate stacks incredibly in favor of Republicans. However, one must consider that even a strong senate map cannot make up for some of the bad candidates that Republicans are running.

There is a debate raging in liberal policy and election circles on why Democrats have been underperforming in statewide and federal elections over the last four election cycles. Progressives and popularists disagree on the best election strategy.

Progressives tend to argue that the cause of the Democrats’ impending losses is because of the fact that Democrats are running candidates that would be considered moderate. Instead, they propose that Democrats run candidates in local and state-wide offices who openly embrace policies such as Medicare for all and the Green New Deal.

Furthermore, they tend to point the blame at centrist politicians for blocking progressive policy initiatives and being more incremental in their approach rather than transformative.

However, what progressives do get wrong is the nature of the Democratic base. To them, the Democrats should be focusing on catering to the views of minority groups (Black and Hispanics) and turning out young voters.

This is a wildly misguided way of viewing politics largely because young people have incredibly low turnout and minority groups do not actually hold progressive views, in fact, minority voters are more likely to hold conservative views on social issues and center-left ones when it comes to economics.

On the other hand, there are the popularists, disciples of the data scientist David Shor. Shor and his followers believe that Democrats should run candidates that cater to the median voter.

To explain the median voter theorem, a political party cannot win an election by just catering to its base. As a result, a party must design a platform that is acceptable to their base and those considered in the “middle” between the liberal and conservative poles. That way the party will be able to win over the most voters as well as the election.

Does that mean the popularists are right when it comes to picking candidates? Not necessarily.

While polling data and centering a platform around popular policies is a no-brainer, being able to effectively communicate those policies in an authentic, personable way matters.

Take, for example, the 2022 Iowa Senate Race between Senator Chuck Grassley and Admiral Mike Franken. While Franken certainly has the right policies a candidate would need to appeal to the median voter, he does not have the profile, or capacity to build a profile that could take down an incumbent senator of 42 years.

All in all, Democrats have forgotten what type of candidate wins elections. The Obama-esque moderate.   That is a candidate that can appeal to voters of all stripes while at the same time, having enough charisma to make voters excited to vote.

The need for exciting moderate candidates is especially crucial for midterm years and Democrats need to remember this basic fact if they want to achieve a trifecta again in the future.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.