As we enter the year 2020, we are faced with the dawn of a new presidential election season in the United States. This is no small predicament: as citizens (and for some of us, first-time voters), we are granted the weighty task of deciding who we want to represent our nation for the next four years ahead of us.
I find it easy at times to think of politics in abstract terms. The language of politics, so full of unfamiliar words and phrases that often lead us down a rabbit-hole of research, lends itself to abstraction. It is all too simple to distance ourselves. For some, this means choosing a candidate based on who our friends or parents support and perhaps screaming their name at a rally once or twice before casting our ballot. For others, it means forgetting about politics altogether — neglecting to either choose a candidate to support or to vote.
To be an informed and active citizen is an incredible right that we as American citizens possess, but it’s also easier said than done. In the year 2020, my hope is that we can work together as a campus (and, fingers crossed, as a nation) to learn about what is happening and find a place in the world of politics that we feel comfortable inhabiting as individual thinkers. In an effort to further that process for myself and readers, I have compiled basic information about the three highest-polling Democratic candidates in the upcoming primary election.
Joseph R. Biden, Jr., age 77
Joe Biden is a former six-term senator from Delaware, elected in 1972. Biden has run for president of the United States two times previously. He also served as vice president to President Barack Obama for two consecutive four-year terms. Health care is an important issue for Biden. During his time as vice president, the Obama administration passed the Affordable Care Act, providing health care to millions of Americans. Republicans in Congress have made efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act since it was passed. If Biden were elected president, he would protect the Affordable Care Act and expand on it by increasing choice, decreasing cost, and making the health care system easier to navigate.
An important element of Biden’s political stance is his emphasis on bipartisanship. Unlike many other Democratic candidates in the 2020 election, Biden believes in reaching across party lines to negotiate with Republicans and has extensive experience doing so in the past. Other candidates argue that this effort for inclusiveness may make it challenging for Biden to achieve more progressive democratic goals. For example, while Biden advertises himself as the best candidate when it comes to a successful history of foreign policy, his anti-war stance is not nearly as firm as that of Sanders. Sanders publicly opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Biden, who at that time was a senator under the Bush administration, authorized the Iraq invasion.
Biden has made an effort to attract working class voters. He has strong support from a multiracial working class. Although Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have polled higher with college-educated Democrats, Biden leads the polls with high-school educated Democrats without a college degree. Many of these working-class Democrats trust Biden’s long career as a senator and his work as vice president under Barack Obama. They have faith in his incremental approach to policy, as opposed to progressive ideas from Sanders and Warren that may come across to some voters as too far-reaching. This is an important segment of the voting populace for current candidates, particularly because Donald Trump also appeals to the working class. However, Biden has received criticism from the left for not being as progressive in his goals as Sanders and Warren.
Currently, Biden stands as the Democratic front-runner with a vision of uniting the nation from a bipartisan angle.
Bernie Sanders, age 78:
A senator from Vermont and former congressman, Sanders describes himself as a Democratic socialist. He is known for several progressive proposals. Among the most popular of these is Medicare for All, which is a bill for a government-run health plan for all Americans, as opposed to solely the elderly population that Medicare currently covers. This would substantially increase federal spending on healthcare fueled by increases in taxes, but patients would have to pay significantly less than many are now. This plan would abolish private health insurance, which concerns some voters because it may mean an increase in unemployment as a large number of Americans are employed by the health insurance industry.
Senator Sanders also campaigns for a $15 minimum wage by year 2024. Currently in the United States, many full time workers earning a minimum wage are still living in poverty. A higher minimum wage has been one of Sanders’ priorities throughout his career. Since 1993 he has introduced specific legislation to promote an increase in minimum wage. In 2015, he proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, a number endorsed by 200 professional economists. Part of Sanders’ plan is to increase equity by taxing large companies to help pay their employees.
Another important issue for Sanders is tuition-free college, something that has drawn him many supporters. Sanders believes that no one should be denied access to college based on their parents’ income. He aims to make public universities, colleges, and trade schools free, as well as cancel student debt. He believes this would help bolster the economy by removing the significant financial burden that college tuition places on families and individuals. In our current labor market, a college degree grows ever more financially necessary. The funding for free college would come from placing a transaction tax on Wall Street known as the “Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street.”
Due to his progressive measures, a question frequently asked of Sanders (and Elizabeth Warren as well) is whether or not his voter base will be widespread enough among the general population of voting Americans for him to win the election. Some people worry that the consistency Sanders has displayed throughout his career may reflect an unwillingness to compromise and therefore prevent him from achieving new goals. However, this consistency has also inspired avid loyalty in his supporters. For many Americans, his campaign is one of devotion.
Elizabeth Warren, age 70:
Senator from Massachusetts and former law professor at Harvard, Elizabeth Warren has her eye on structural change for America. She is experienced in economics (particularly bankruptcy law), and intends to reshape the economy of the United States. Similarly to Sanders and other Democratic candidates in the 2020 election, Warren aims to drive power towards the working class rather than large corporations.
Senator Warren has garnered personal support from voters by refusing fund-raising from wealthy donors, and agreeing to take pictures with voters following her town halls. She runs on several important progressive platforms, including cancellation of student loan debt and free college tuition. Warren’s plan is to eliminate up to $50,000 of student loan debt for anyone with a household income less than $100,000. She would pay for this by creating a tax on the wealthy.
This wealth tax is a large part of Warren’s platform because it is the means by which she would fuel several of her most important causes, including (in addition to student loan debt and free undergraduate education) universal child care and response to the opioid crisis.
For many families across the United States, paying for child care is a dominant concern. Child care centers for infants in over half the U.S. are currently more expensive for families than in-state public college tuition. The high cost of childcare limits parents from progressing in their careers and education. Warren would ensure affordable, high-quality access to child care for everyone. Families earning below $51,500 would be able to access child care at no cost, while higher income families would pay more. However, no one would be charged over 7% of their income for child care.
With a vision to end the opioid crisis currently wracking the nation, Warren backs the CARE Act. Under this act, states receive federal funds targeting communities with high overdose rates to support community addiction treatment centers, workforce training and public health research, nonprofits working with underserved populations, and increase access to medications to treat opioid use disorder and the overdose reversal medication naloxone.
Warren also intends to break up major tech companies that dominate the market such as Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook. She seeks to prevent companies from simultaneously providing a marketplace and participating in that marketplace. Warren hopes that this will result in a more equal distribution of wealth, rather than having colossal amounts of money centralized in just a few corporations.
Some fear that Warren may not be appealing to a broad enough voter base, as Sanders tends to attract the majority of younger progressive voters and Biden has attracted older voters and voters with lower incomes. But above all, Warren does emphasize her aim of fighting corruption to economically empower working class Americans.
When it comes to all of the Democratic candidates, one of the most prominent questions on voters’ minds is electability (as in, how likely it is that a candidate would be elected president if they won the Democratic primaries?). Should electability matter when we choose who to vote for? It’s a complicated dilemma. On one hand, we want to be able to vote our conscience without being overly preoccupied with what we perceive other voters may be thinking, especially because we may easily be mistaken about what other voters are looking for. Certain progressive policies, such as banning fracking, remain divisive among Americans. While fracking has detrimental environmental effects, it is also a source of livelihood for many American workers. For this issue and many others, there is not necessarily a decisive right and wrong. A common concern raised against both Warren and Sanders is that their more progressive views may galvanize Republicans to turn out in greater numbers for the sake of voting against them. However, the ideas that they stand for are parts of policy that remain extremely important to many Democrats, so it is possible that the excitement of their voter bases will outweigh the Republicans voting against them.
Ultimately, I think what matters most is that we all make sure to exercise our right as American citizens and VOTE for who we believe is the best choice for president given the options before us. If you aren’t registered, do it now. Educate yourself about the candidates, educate others, and encourage the people around you to vote.
This article does not mention many important candidates in the Democratic primaries, including Pete Buttigieg, Michael R. Bloomberg, Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang, and others. If you are interested in learning more about these candidates as well as the ones that were discussed in this article, there are a plethora of useful resources at your fingertips. The New York Times has a guide to the 2020 election that I find very helpful. Candidates’ individual websites are also a great way to learn about the specific details of their policy proposals. If you want to get a better idea of how your views align with those of the Democratic candidates, I recommend taking this quiz from the Washington Post. Of course, it is important to do research on your own, but the quiz may help point you in a more fruitful direction. The Daily podcast by the New York Times (available on Spotify and the Apple podcast app) has in-depth interviews with several of the Democratic candidates that I found extremely useful and engaging.
At this point, the most effective action we can take to preserve our democracy is to vote. Politics can be daunting, but the knowledge is readily available for all of us, and after the knowledge comes the voter participation from each of us that has the potential to alter our entire nation for the better.