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Why Democratic Cannibalism During Election Season Might Break the Party Again

Back in 2016, the Democratic field was split tightly between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. The year-long fight in the primaries resulted in a severe breakdown amongst Democratic voters. Many of these voters were reluctant to support Clinton in the final election, clinging onto Sanders until the bitter end. Despite Sanders’s endorsement, in the end, 1 in 10 (or 12%) of those who supported Bernie Sanders decided to opt for Trump in the final election.

This number was absolutely large enough to swing elections in almost all of the swing states and could have allowed Clinton to win the election, had she gained their support. In the end, division amongst the Democratic Party was one of the reasons Clinton lost in the general election.

via NPR; showing which swing states Clinton could have won had former Sanders supporters supported her.

This heavily contrasts with the Republican party. After Senators Ted Cruz and John Kasich eventually dropped out of the race, party leaders and voters alike all jumped on Trump’s train running full speed towards the White House, all fully backing him by the time the election swung around. In fact, Ted Cruz went as far as to endorse President Trump, telling his voters that to avoid Clinton, they had to vote for Trump. This contrast in unity between two parties hints at the reason Trump took the victory back in 2016.

Now, in 2019, history looks like it could repeat itself.

via CNN; Most primary candidates for the party

The 2020 election has seen a huge flood of different candidates, 24, to be exact. Every candidate is embraced by thousands of voters across the US. Each group of voters is looking for a distinct characteristic and the one candidate that can most aptly represent them. This has resulted in one of the most diverse primary fields within the Democratic Party. Many voters back Biden, or Sen. Sanders, or Sen. Warren, or Sen. Harris, or Sen. Klobuchar, or Castro, and the list goes on.

However, ideologies aren’t actually the biggest reason why this large field of candidates may become problematic. Instead, it’s because of infighting in the Democratic party. The presidential candidates have not been supportive of each other. In fact, Sen. Booker and Sen. Harris have both jabbed at Biden more than a couple of times, and there’s an entire “anti-Sanders” band of democrats. Not to mention, in a majority of the latest polls, no candidate even has around 30% of democratic party support. This means that not only is the field extremely broken up, but it also means that these democrat to democrat rivalries could ultimately hurt whoever is chosen to represent the party.

On Night Two of the Democratic Debate, Sen. Harris heavily attacked Biden, notably calling him out on his opposition toward busing. Busing was a movement responsible for desegregating schools. Biden, who has had a long career as a member of the party, has changed with the times, but Sen. Harris’s willingness to call him out on a decades old issue shows that members of the party are unafraid to bash each other. It also shows that the field is getting more heated. When Sen. Harris entered the race, she claimed that she “wouldn’t criticize Biden”.

via New York Post; Rep. Pelosi and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez

Democratic infighting isn’t only hurting the party in terms of the presidential election, but also in the House. Earlier this month, infighting emerged when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Nancy Pelosi got into a major argument. The fighting centralized around a border immigration funding vote, where Ocasio-Cortez and three other democratic representatives voted against the other house Democrats. Although there was some minor dissent, things took a turn for the worse when Pelosi called out the younger progressives, stating that “all these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world but they didn’t have any following”. The slew of attacks further increased when Ocasio-Cortez fought back, saying, “I find it strange when members act as though social media isn’t important. I haven’t dialed for dollars *once* this year & have more time to do my actual job”. This feud highlights that Democrats are split everywhere.

The inability for democrats to quickly resolve conflict allows major media sources to quickly blow these feuds out of proportion. When left unresolved, every conflict has the ability to deepen the party’s wounds.

Infighting amongst the current Democratic party closely mirrors the 2009 Tea Party Movement, when the Republican party was struck with heavy infighting because of differing ideologies. The Tea Party held more extreme beliefs than more moderate republicans. The members of this party believed in heavily lowering taxes, and went to the ends of “small government”. As the movement gained traction, the Republican party struggled to meet the needs both the normal party and tea party.

Image via NY Times; poll showing social media vs “silent” voters

via NY Times; poll showing social media vs “silent” voters

Now, the Democrats seem to have stumbled upon a “tea party like” phenomenon in their party. A recent poll revealed that at its core, the ideologies of many Democratic voters are highly split. While social media may be dominated by radical fans who want to see a change in every aspect, there’s another part of the Democratic Party that is fully silent.

These “silent democrats” outnumber the radical ones on a 2 to 1 ratio, and consider themselves much more moderate and much more “conservative”. Their presence is one of the largest reasons why Biden is leading; the moderate camp simply has more people.

This means that in the end, it’s likely that the moderate “silent democrats” will sit and endorse Biden, leaving 33% of extremely dedicated and radical voters potentially voting for a smaller independent group, or moderate, and there’s no question that in the end, that may be the key to hurting the Democratic Party. This ideology split, coupled with malicious cannibalism, could bring the party down again.

The moderate majority signifies that the Democratic Party isn’t as radical as it appears, and forces the party to consider just how deep the moderate vs. radical divide would be. Without either party, there’s no question that the Democrats might cave again in the 2020 elections. The extremely large field has candidates from all ideologies, many either leaning moderate (such as Sen. Klobuchar and Biden) or radical (such as Sen. Harris, Sen. Sanders, and Sen. Warren).

To avoid a repeated loss, one of the most important things the Democratic Party must do is to never allow 2016 to repeat itself. This means that unlike Sanders and Clinton, candidates need to be more supportive of each other. The heavy polarization between these two candidates, and the severe attachment voters had toward one or the other, definitely led to a more divided party. Avoiding infighting would also involve more cooperation amongst party leaders in the House, in the Senate, and in the primaries. The most important thing for the Democratic Party is to address that its voters come from a plethora of different fields, and remind its voters that in the end, they must all come together as one party.

Featured Image via Attempts at Honesty 

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Joanna Hou
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Joanna Hou is a 17 year old high school student based in San Diego, California. She is passionate about current events, law, and politics. She is an avid writer, journalist, and musician (euphonium and flute). In her spare time, she enjoys reading and boba.

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