Run on the Popular Stuff

Matthew Yglesias makes a good point today in his article about Progressive policy proposals. Why don’t Democrats run on the policy positions that many polls show most Americans support?  He points to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, a public option for healthcare, a “Green New Deal” which focuses on investment in clean energy, $15/hour minimum wage, legalizing marijuana, and a wealth tax as things that would be very popular and would make up a solid to great set of policy proposals for Democrats to run on.

I agree with him to an extent.  Shouldn’t elected representatives and the President strive to enact policies with which they agree and which most Americans support?  I think most of the Democratic candidates agree with these policies, although they might go further in some areas (like healthcare with a Medicare for All proposal).  And, politically, these would be some good policies to run on since more voters like these ideas than the status quo or a Republican alternative.

On the other hand, if you run only on the popular stuff, you look like you’re running your campaign based on polling and not based on your personal convictions.  If something you support during the campaign loses some popular support, will you just abandon that idea?  There’s something to be said for saying what you stand for, regardless of what the polls show.  Even though I’m not a fan of Bernie Sanders, I admire that he stands by his position for political revolution without regard for how well it polls.

I think there’s also a problem with Democrats only adopting the positions that are super popular.  There’s definitely a benefit for a wide range of ideas among candidates for President or even among members of Congress.  If you define your platform as these popular and only slightly left of center policies, you have effectively defined these policies as the left most side of the Overton Window.  And since the right hand side of the window is defined by extreme Republican right wing positions, you’ve left the middle of the window, where you might expect any compromises to land, decidedly right of center.  Instead, I say let candidates feel out the more extreme positions on the Left so as to expand the Overton Window.  Then, the middle can be established where it truly is – at these positions which are overwhelmingly approved of by all Americans.


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