Joe Biden’s policy platform looks a lot more liberal than it used to, and it could help him cement support from leftist voters who were not convinced that he was worth supporting.
The newest policies seem strange coming from the former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, who ran on a more moderate platform that rejected his left-wing competitors’ visions of single-payer healthcare and student loan debt forgiveness.
But soon after it became clear that he was the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Biden adopted key proposals from the two biggest leftists in the primary field: a proposal from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to make all public higher education free for those with annual family incomes less than $125,000 and a Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposal to reform the bankruptcy system.
Now, Biden is rolling out new major policy agendas that echo recommendations from a Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force, of which leftist firebrand New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a co-chair.
This week, Biden announced a $2 trillion clean energy plan that calls to eliminate carbon power plants by 2035. It was the second part of his “Build Back Better” economic recovery plan that includes New Deal-like proposals. Two more detailed Biden policy rollouts on his “Build Back Better” plan on a “21st-century caregiving and education workforce” and “racial equity” are expected in the coming weeks.
Biden strongly opposed getting rid of the Senate filibuster during the primary. Now, as he rolls out policies that are unlikely to garner support from any Senate Republicans in the case of Democrats winning a slim Senate majority, he’s open to it.
The logical explanation is that the Biden campaign fears that as insurgent leftists such as Ocasio-Cortez gain prominence in the party and power among voters, he could face the same phenomenon that played a role in sinking Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign: Sanders primary voters turning to Donald Trump in the general election or staying home rather than voting for either Trump or Clinton. One study found that 1 in 10 Sanders primary voters cast a ballot for Trump.
The threat of losing leftist voters is the predominant argument among those advocating that Biden make Warren his running mate.
But in an election defined so far by Trump’s unique unpopularity, does he need to change his policy instincts to cement that support? After all, 89% of self-identified Democrats in a July 5-7 Economist/YouGov national poll said that they support Biden, on par with 91% support for Trump among self-identified Republicans.
David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Research Center, said that it is still important for Biden to make sure that he cements support from those who supported other primary candidates such as Sanders.
“Biden moving to the left so quickly is a necessary road to travel right now,” Paleologos told the Washington Examiner.
A USA Today/Suffolk University poll conducted in April found that 22% of Sanders voters said that they would vote for a third party (8%), for Trump (2%), would skip voting (2%), or were undecided (8%).
“You can’t advance if you’re not an army,” Paleologos said, referring to Biden’s need to ensure that the base of Democratic-leaning voters in the electorate is solidly in his favor. “If you just advance to the next point, and you don’t shore up people who are left and center but not enthusiastic about you, you may leave them behind.”
The enthusiasm gap between Trump and Biden — far more voters who support Trump say that they are very excited about supporting him than voters who support Biden — may not be a concern for Biden now, as he has a lead over Trump in national polls and key swing states. But as the election cycle pushes forward, Paleologos said, the mood of the electorate could change, and it will be important for Biden to have a solid base of support.
And the Economist /YouGov poll found that there are still risks for Biden within his desired base: 32% of those who said that they voted in a Democratic primary would have preferred Sanders to be the 2020 nominee.
Biden’s lurch to the left could be more than an electoral calculation. As he makes space for the far-left in his policy platform, the former vice president appears to be openly changing his own view of his role in leading and shaping policy.
“I do think we’ve reached a point, a real inflection in American history. And I don’t believe it’s unlike what Roosevelt was met with,” Biden said in a Monday interview. “I think we have an opportunity to make some really systemic change.”