Battling it out for Democracy

On October 15, former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump battled it out in town halls on different television networks. These dueling events and what they represent call into question whether our democracy will stay intact for the next four years and beyond, regardless of the election results. Reliable information is necessary to achieve a functional democracy: people’s opinions are influenced by the resources available to them. There is an increasing lack of credible information throughout both the Republican and Democratic parties, proven through the confusion on Trump’s recent Covid-19 diagnosis and the question posed by Trump towards the Democratic party as to whether mail in ballots are constitutional. This leads people who don’t adhere to partisanship and are unsure of who to vote to have to either forfeit their ballot or make a decision off of corrupted information. Partisanship has infiltrated every level of the political process, with the ballots filled in based on faulty information symbolizing the threats towards democracy. Democracy is faltering because of strict partisan alignment and the resulting removal of discourse surrounding political choice. When voters make their choices along party lines rather than through informed engagement, democracy cannot survive.

The simultaneous town hall meetings of the two presidential candidates is an example of the erosion of informed choice. The initial idea suggested by the Commission on Presidential Debates was to host a single, virtual town hall, in which Joe Biden and Donald Trump would consecutively answer questions. However, despite his Covid-19 diagnosis, Trump refused to settle for a virtual debate. Instead, they each scheduled separate, individual town halls. The conflict deprived undecided voters of the opportunity to inform themselves about both candidates, forcing them to make an initial partisan decision in which town hall they chose to attend. Regardless of the town halls potentially being an opportunity to allow unsure people to make a decision, the partisan system ensures that exposure to other candidate’s ideas would be limited.

When partisanship is too strict, candidates often have to compromise their beliefs in order to be accepted by the moderates in the party they align with. This compromise has led to the Overton window: a representation of the spectrum of political ideologies that are broadly accepted within a moment in society, to shift significantly to the right. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic congresswoman, is an example of this change; she advocates for gun control, the Green New Deal, and reproductive freedom. Yet despite her typically liberal ideologies, she is considered by some to be “too left” to eventually run for president. Similarly, Senator Bernie Sanders was neck in neck with Biden for much of the 2020 Democratic primaries, yet many were still concerned about the public perception of him as too radical. This skepticism stemmed from the recent shift in the Overton window, leading the moderate wing of the Democratic party to adopt something closer to a moderate Republican stance. This shift puts Sanders and other progressive Democrats at a disadvantage. The changing Overton window has shifted public perceptions of what the ‘left’ is: Biden falls in the same quadrant as Trump on the political compass, yet is considered a moderate Democrat. For example, Biden’s views on LGBTQIA+ rights have not always been supportive. Additionally, Biden has a past history of  racial insensitivity in passing legislation that targeted people of color in the justice system.  The people’s views of Biden as a Democrat despite his controversial and right-leaning past demonstrates that Biden’s opinions on justice are not entirely beneficial for marginalized intersections of people. The limitation of policies being bound to the Overton window leaves marginalized groups at a halt for getting justice, as truly left-leaning policies fall out of the window. 

Partisanship has guided the election so far, as indicated by the public loyalty toward political candidates because of their party. By observing the data in polling and elections, it becomes clear that the political parties hold a grip on certain states. In Connecticut, Biden leads the polls, with 52 percent of residents saying that they will vote for him. In 2016, the turnout was similar; Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, won Connecticut with 54.6 percent of the vote. The similarity in election/polling results demonstrates a lack of change in mindset, even over four years of intense political turmoil. There are certain exceptions, such as Georgia nearly becoming a swing state in the current election, but generally, partisanship has a grip on almost every state. Although Connecticut’s political preference may not be detrimental to the election, it still displays the lack of mobility each state has in the elections (aside from the swing states). The election results may be caused by a moral rationale as opposed to a partisan one, however due to the titles that partisanship assigns certain moral arguments, there is a limitation on how far those morals can extend. This is indicative of the partisan loyalty that keeps the polls similar, freezing the condition of the United States where it stands.

The partisanship shown in Congress is really only indicative of Democrats and Republicans in the United States, making even certain left-wing policies ineffective for marginalized groups of people due to the lack of accountability that exists within the Congress. Third party politicians are similarly underrepresented: there are only 3 Congresspeople who identify as Independent, and one who identifies as Libertarian. The lack of representation given to third parties in the Congress is a dangerous contributor to the U.S.’s partisan divides: Liberal citizens will vote Democratic congresspeople, Conservative citizens will vote Republican congresspeople. The Independent party, Green party, Libertarian party, and others have the potential to flourish into a more neutral ground and hold the other main parties accountable, dictated by the true will of the people. With these third parties, traditional and rigid bi-partisan ideologies can be challenged and further interrogated. 

There is still hope to stop the strict partisan alignment following this coming election; and it begins at the polls. The election is an important matter for marginalized communities, since electing more Independently-aligned representatives is useful in trying to change the state of this country. Otherwise, the next election may be even more of a threat to peoples’ rights than Trump’s potential presidency.