Voting to “win” vs. Voting with “conviction”

The Democratic National Convention recently conducted a poll that, among other things, analyzed whether more Democratic voters found beating Trump more important than voting for a candidate that “shared [their] positions on major issues.” While democrats do not appear sharply divided across ideology, race, partisanship, age, and education, I can’t help but have flashbacks to the 2016 election. Donald Trump as the Republican primary candidate was a hard reality to accept. The preposterous notion that he could be President motivated many to ask the same question: who can beat Trump? Hilary Clinton presented the polished and curbed progressiveness which, when held up against Trump’s brash racism, many Democrats predicted would have won the votes of more reasonable Republicans and brought the country back to equilibrium. Alas it did not. And here we are again asking the same question. Who should hold the Democratic ticket: Someone who can win against Trump, or a candidate that reflects a certain ideological trajectory?

Trevor Noah, six days before the DNC poll results were released, predicted that Democratic voters would be split 50/50 by this question. In his 7 minute Between-The-Scenes commentary, Trevor Noah expresses that he hopes Democrats don’t vote out of fear, but “rather vote out of conviction.” His concern exposes the reality behind the “win” strategy—that it ultimately distorts the value of a vote and erodes the ideals that the Democratic party is trying to promote.

“…. No no, pick the person you think is the best. Go with that person and then you go like, this is what represents the party, this is what represents the people. These are policies, and then you go from there.” -Trevor Noah

Voting based on electability risks designating a leader that does not represent the ideological trajectory of the party. This is exactly what is happening with the Republican Party with Donald Trump. It is quite ironic that Republicans can both claim Trump does not represent their social values, but support him in order to push forward a fiscal agenda (that he has yet to truly embrace). What Republicans have now is a party stuck in mental gymnastics, explaining away Trump’s divisive tactics as they continue to lose long-time republican leaders fed up with the double-mindedness.

Of the 54% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters that find voting to win a priority, 35% in that group support Biden. But as Trevor Noah has observed, many Democrats, when they speak about Joe Biden say “yeah look he seems a little out of touch, and doesn’t seem like he has a firm grasp on … the modern Democratic party.” So why would Democrats want to beat Trump with a candidate that does not represent what they believe in? Democrats will find themselves in no better a position than the Republicans—with a leader that they have to constantly explain away or even worse, quietly distance ourselves from as he erodes decades of momentum for progressive policies.

I think people have forgotten the power of voting for something as opposed to against something. You know? -Trevor Noah

Voting to win reduces the Democratic Party into one of avoidance instead of one of progression. This problem is two-fold. First, it perpetuates the “us” versus “them” mentality that makes the two-party system suspect and unworkable. By suggesting that the other party must lose, posits that so should their policies regardless of any redeeming qualities that may reside in their platforms. Voting to win perpetuates political inertia by prohibiting parties from working together, contrary to very purpose for having multiple parties (which is to balance perspectives and lead to better legislation).

Second, it perpetuates the idea that “voting on the issues” is as irrelevant as modern politics has led society to believe. Ironically, some Republicans, now faced with a party-identity crisis, have suggested that running just to create a conversation should be enough, even if you think you will lose. Take Mark Sanford, a former South Carolina governor and congressman who said “Anybody who says, ‘I think I can beat Donald Trump,’ I think is stretching it….It’s a daunting task and it is indeed preposterous at many different levels….If … you could get a message out and create a national conversation on what it means to be a Republican these days [] that could probably be worth the endeavor.” So it should give us pause when campaigns endorse statements like Jill Biden’s who has said that even if a “candidate might be better on… health care, than Joe… you’ve got to look at who’s going to win this election”, because it calls into question the care with which their policies have been crafted. Elections have consequences, and if we fail to facilitate educated voting, progressive policies have no chance.

“…but now imagine losing and going, ahh I didn’t and I wasn’t motivated and I didn’t think …” -Trevor Noah

Lest we forget, voting to win didn’t work in 2016. While we have debated ad nauseum regarding why Hilary Clinton lost in 2016, what we did not account for was that Republicans would vote to win as well even if it was ideologically offensive to their better nature. Hilary Clinton was polled as the candidate that would most likely beat Donald Trump. Alas, that did not happen. So why are there democratic voters taking the same approach now? Candidates who feed into the “electability” mentality risk isolating Democratic-leaning voters (as Clinton did), even challenging them to take an apathetic approach and refuse to vote in the next election.

” ‘Voting to win’ is is just another way of saying vote for the white man” -Me

What are we asking people to do when we say “vote for the person who will beat Trump”? A few factors come to mind:

  • Vote for someone who is non-threatening
  • Vote for a person that society can accept if they are argumentative
  • Vote for someone that will attract Republican voters
  • Vote for a person who represents the American majority and status quo
  • Vote for someone that you feel comfortable having a beer with

It’s hard to imagine that voting to win won’t conjure blue-blooded American ideals that are stunted by chauvinism and tradition.


I understand that voting with conviction risks picking a candidate that won’t attract enough across-the-aisle voters, leaving the United States to witness 4 more years of the unraveling of democracy with racism and buffoonery. But my primary concern is the damage that elections can do to the party. We have to take care that the United States actually progresses. Risking the loss of supporters due to unrepresentative candidates paints the Democratic Party as one willing to become lukewarm out of fear. The last thing the Democratic Party should do is buckle on its platforms when faced with the monster that those platforms were built to conquer.