Former Vice President Joe Biden currently holds a significant lead in swing-state polls, suggesting he would win the presidency if the election were next week. These statistics raise the question of how the United States would react to Biden’s agenda if he is elected. Political scientists have suggested that successful reform occurs under strong domestic demand for such a change. The opposite is also true: State reform from mandating unpopular policies marks unsuccessful reform, resulting in political instability and ultimate disapproval of the administration. Although Biden was previously a moderate, he has moved further left to unify the Democratic party in order to win the election. Some of his policies reflect the beliefs of left-wing Democrats rather than Americans as a whole, fitting the definition of unsuccessful reform.
At the beginning of the 2020 Democratic primary race, Biden represented a return to normalcy. Progressives rallied around Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who was on track to win the primary before Biden’s popularity surged on Super Tuesday in March. When he secured the Democratic nomination in August, Biden collaborated with Sanders in an attempt to marry the moderate and progressive wings of the party, something Hillary Rodham Clinton was unable to do. In 2016, 8% to 16% of Sanders voters defected to Donald Trump in swing states, enough to swing the election in Trump’s favor.
In an attempt to avoid repeating those past mistakes this November, Biden worked directly with progressive Democrats, including Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), to form policies more appealing to the left wing of the party. These programs include free college for low-income families, an extensive bankruptcy reform plan, multiple tax increases and a $1.7 trillion climate plan to reach net-zero emissions in 30 years. In contrast, America’s College Promise under President Barack Obama proposed a smaller scope of free college, and his administration only advocated a 32% decrease of emissions in 25 years, both of which were significantly more moderate positions than Biden holds now.
Biden’s extensive regulatory agenda also includes a plethora of progressive economic policies: a $15 federal minimum wage, increased rights of workers unions, higher capital gains tax and corporate income taxes. Despite the gradual expansion of social services since the New Deal, Biden’s economic plans lie in stark contrast to the current scope of the U.S. government. Trump recorded a 63% approval rating before the pandemic by focusing on lower taxes, more jobs at all income levels and decreased government regulation, suggesting that the American people are happy with the way the economy is right now.
Political scientist Francis Fukuyama argued that successful democratic reform occurs when a society demands such a change. To me, societal demand should consist of majority support regardless of political party. If a president attempts to lead their country in a direction in which it is not willing to go, their administration will most likely be unpopular. The majority of Americans today have backed raising the minimum wage to $15, yet public sentiment about the importance of college have both decreased in recent years. The implementation of initiatives against the will of Americans could therefore lead to widespread disapproval of Biden’s administration.
However, progressive policies in the United States will most likely become more popular in the future. Throughout the past century, the scope of the U.S. government has marginally increased and is bound to rise further. Federal programs in the New Deal were thought to be too expensive by 60% of Americans in the 1930s but are considered fundamental today. Democrats also have emerged as the popular party of younger generations, implying an upcoming cultural shift that will then justify the implementation of all of Biden’s ideas.
I would advocate that Biden resort to the moderate-left policies he helped to implement under Obama, like an affordable public healthcare option, moderate minimum wage increases and modest college grants. Although progressive policies will attract votes from the far left, they are not favorable for most of the United States, resulting in disaster if implemented all at once. Therefore, Biden should gradually implement each initiative to ensure Americans approve each incremental change. Try one and see how the nation reacts, whether through approval ratings or the economic reaction. If Biden’s changes remain gradual, he will be more popular in the eyes of the U.S. majority rather than just the far left.
Chris Delaney is a freshman in the McDonough School of Business. Finding the Balance appears online every other Tuesday.