Why Democrats Lost So Many Down Ballot Races on Nov. 3, 2020

Julie Hotard
13 min readDec 2, 2020

Here are some likely reasons why Dems lost so many down ballot races. However, I don’t know for sure why they lost, and neither does anyone else. Research has to be done to find the answers. Of course there are the obvious reasons like gerrymandering. Here are some other possible reasons. Those that can be researched and tested, ought to be.

We live in a plutocratic society, full of the sameness of plutocratic ideas — on how to win elections, as well as on everything else

This reason is a broad cultural tendency, rather than a specific testable idea, but it’s important.

Election strategies and election messaging come from the people who have high status in our plutocratic society — status quo defenders. People like Bret Stephens, Thomas Friedman, David Brooks, Maureen Dowd, Steven Pinker and Ben Sasse keep recycling the same status quo defending ideas, to the delight of mainstream media outlets. These people also delight the Right Wing during periods of Right Wing control of government— but do not delight those of us who prefer that government solve the problems of the 99.99% rather than those of the .01%.

Mainstream media give most of their jobs to such people. Media also choose most guest writers, talk show hosts and TV guests from this group. So these status quo defending individuals basically tell us all what to think. Is it any wonder why Republicans — who had ruled the status quo for the four previous years — won so many Congressional and state legislature races in November 2020?

Even Democratic leaders and their consultants slavishly follow “conventional wisdom” — that is, Republican talking points in mainstream media. Mainstream media often “cover both sides” — Right and Left. However, only Republicans reward media for bending to their party’s will, and bully media for failing to bend to it. Democrats, in contrast, usually don’t even stand up for themselves or for the public when media are unfair.

The GOP also uses talking points. What’s repeated gets remembered. That’s why GOP talking points become “conventional wisdom” — because they are repeated so often. These points are repeated in mainstream media that is consumed and believed by Democrats and their consultants — and just about everyone else too. Democratic talking points don’t exist. Democratic leaders refuse to use them. Thus Democrats’ ideas are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to influencing the public — and each other.

“Both sides” reporting in mainstream media constantly feeds repeated Right Wing talking points to us all. Conventional wisdom — that is, Republican talking points — constantly cautions Democrats not to go “too far Left” in their policies or campaigns. If only Democrats and their consultants and data analysts realized this is a Right Wing talking point — not undisputable truth for national elections or for all Congressional districts — then Democrats would research effectively how to run more effective campaigns and could run them.

Coming up with your campaign strategies by accepting your competitor party’s suggestions about what they’d like you to do, is a pretty reliable way to lose elections. Democrats do some research. But they interpret it by using their competitor party’s suggestions as to why the research came out as it did.

Here’s an article I wrote about the need for Democrats to spread their own vision and correct the GOP’s lies about Dems, through talking points.

How Mainstream Media Destroy Truth and Democracy through Both Sides Reporting

We need to get out from under the Right Wing talking points we’re immersed in — to hear a broader range of ideas in our national discourse. Right now, new and useful ideas can be hard to find, because new ideas usually don’t have large platforms. Some people expected social media to democratize free speech. It did — but mostly outrageous, rage filled or entertaining speech —and also Right Wing conspiracy theories. It doesn’t spread new useful ideas as often or as effectively as it spreads disinformation.

Some Ideas Plutocratic Gatekeepers Block

Plutocratic societies get stale because they deprive themselves of ideas that could solve the whole society’s problems. The gatekeepers block ideas that might threaten plutocrats — whose problems gatekeepers prioritize. Like the rest of the “free market” in a poorly regulated capitalist system, the “free market” of ideas is mainly free for plutocrats and for those who cater to their preferences and whims.

Anand Giridharadas covers this subject in his book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. He even interviewed a TED Talks administrator about the status quo defending formula that is used to create the most successful TED Talks. For example, there’s a focus on victims and solving their problems — never a focus on the perpetrators of the problems. Why? It’s because the perpetrators may be plutocrats who don’t want to be exposed. Plutocrats don’t want to stop getting richer in ways that continue to cause problems for the rest of society.

I’m amazed that Giridharadas was able to get such a book published. He does have many business world connections, which must have helped.

Unfortunately, he seems not to be much of a threat to the plutocratic status quo. He’s fallen into a typical Left of Center framework — one that seems to co-opt a lot of people on the Left and make them powerless against plutocracy. He complains about systems in an idealistic way, but doesn’t seem to know how power works. He doesn’t focus on acquiring power. He’s just happy to see Leftist ideas being discussed for a while, just before they are shot down and labeled as “evil socialism” by Right Wingers.

Many voters tweet to one another, with complaints about Pelosi, Schumer and other public officials — but these voters never bother to phone their offices and say what they — the voters — want. A situation doesn’t change because you complain to other people who aren’t actively involved in the situation. Power is acquired in other ways.

Democrats need new ideas. Here’s a tweet thread from someone whose ideas should get more attention, pollster Rachel Bitecofer. The thread is on the idea that Democrats need to focus on catering to swing voters or independents to win more elections.

Democrats missed their chance to call out Trump’s corruption and then tie down ballot candidates to Trump because of their support of him

It may be that Democrats should have tied down ballot candidates to Trump, which they failed to do. That likely stems from Dems’ timidity and lack of aggressiveness toward Republicans, which I’ll cover a few paragraphs later.

Also, due to COVID concerns, in many areas, some Democrats didn’t go out into the communities to Get Out The Vote, though Republicans did. Though some candidates lost who didn’t do door knocking, others did the door knocking and still lost, e.g. Sara Gideon. However, the effectiveness of this strategy may vary from one district to another.

Bitecofer and I agree that Democrats don’t do messaging well. Most Dem leaders are technology dinosaurs and are almost science deniers in the area of political messaging research. They do some research but somehow always interpret the research in odd ways e.g. deciding that Dems need to only talk about “kitchen table issues.” Those are of concern to voters, but that doesn’t mean those are the only topics Dems should talk about.

Superior Use of Science and Technology Won the 2016 Election and the 2020 Down Ballot Elections

Rather than doing competent messaging research, Democratic centrists and progressives have lately been blaming each other for the down ballot losses, but without any evidence for their accusations. They should do research to find out why down ballot races were lost — rather than taking the wild guesses about who is to blame.

Democratic Leaders Are Too Timid toward Republicans

Besides their problem with doing messaging and messaging research competently, Democratic leaders also have a problem with timidity toward Republicans, and also toward voters.

There’s a strange feedback loop between Democratic leaders and voters. Like most humans, Dem leaders and voters want to be followers — not leaders. Democratic leaders act passively toward Republicans in Congress. Dem officials and candidates focus on “kitchen table issues” with voters. Then Dem leaders do poorly constructed surveys with voters on how leaders should act.

The worst problem with the surveys is this. Republicans come up with their goals and vision and test different ways of saying it to see what voters respond to. For example, Frank Luntz did a lot of this. Democrats, by contrast, ask voters — many of whom are of course low information voters — what Democratic politicians should be talking about and doing.

In the surveys, voters don’t say Dem leaders should call out the GOP for their corruption and investigate it — maybe because Dem leaders haven’t told voters much about GOP corruption or called it out much. Voters say leaders should keep focusing on “kitchen table issues.” Voters probably say these things because those things are what Pelosi and other Democratic leaders are already doing. Perhaps they figure Dem leaders know their jobs better than voters do. Voters may figure that leaders must be doing what the current situation demands.

Pelosi delayed impeachment for a very long time, apparently because voters overall polled as being against it — although Democrats were mostly in favor of it. In contrast to the GOP, she didn’t play to her base. She tried to please everyone.

Once Pelosi started impeachment proceedings, both Democrats and independent voters seemed to be persuaded by Pelosi’s own actions — viewing impeachment more favorably, once it was ongoing. But it seemed as though Pelosi was afraid of her own success. She ended the impeachment prematurely — considering the long list of crimes she could have investigated.

Pelosi and other Democrats seem unaware that their own actions and words influence voters. For example, if Pelosi had first made a case for impeachment with voters, and then continued impeachment for longer, voters might have continued longer their pattern of becoming even more favorable toward impeachment over time.

It seems as if Democratic leaders want to be the followers — to slavishly follow polls and surveys of voters. However, when Democratic leaders do act more aggressively — e.g. by impeaching — voters are influenced by Democratic leaders’ own behaviors of aggressiveness and then start to follow their Democratic leaders and to approve of Democrats acting aggressively.

Being so timid toward Republicans, and even toward their own voters, Democrats lost the chance to extend impeachment, and also to openly and repeatedly call out Donald Trump for his extensive corruption. That would have made it clearer to voters, especially low information voters, what was at stake in the election. That’s surely what the GOP would have done to any Democratic president who acted as lawlessly as Trump.

As noted earlier, Democratic leaders and their consultants also seem to passively follow “conventional wisdom”, that is, Republican talking points —passively taking campaign advice from listening to what Republicans want Democrats to do. Just like other Americans, Democratic politicians and their consultants are influenced by the Right Wing disinformation in which mainstream media immerse us all — because media “cover both sides” and only one side constantly repeats itself.

The Right Wing Disinformation Machine

A very large factor in losing down ballot races was likely the Right Wing propaganda on Right Wing TV, radio, newspapers, “news” sites and social media. Right Wing media glorify Republican leaders. The Right Wing also fear mongers, hate mongers, and scapegoats/demonizes Democrats, minorities and mainstream media. The Right Wing also bashes groups they associate with Democrats like coastal dwellers, city dwellers, college professors and scientists.

If all you hear is how great Republicans are, and how Democrats are the second coming of Mao and Stalin, you’re probably going to vote Republican — except perhaps in the case of the presidential election, if you are pretty sick of Trump as an individual. Or maybe you remember Biden as Obama’s VP, and remember that he didn’t seem to act like Mao or Stalin at all.

Some Right Wing disinformation is even aimed at changing the minds of specific groups, like Black voters or Latino voters — trying to get them to vote Republican and/or not to vote Democrat.

Trump’s Postmaster General, Apparently Appointed to Destroy the Postal Service and the Mail Voting System

Then there is the issue of Trump donor and USPS Postmaster General who Trump seems to have put in charge of the Post Office in order to destroy it, as well as to destroy the mail-in voting system. After the election, he claimed only a small number of ballots were undelivered. However, Trump appointees routinely lie about their activities, so there is no reason to trust DeJoy’s word. It was within his power to “lose” or destroy large numbers of ballots mailed from Blue voting zip codes. I am not saying he did this, and there is no evidence he did. What I am saying is that, since he is a Trump loyalist who has thrown out mail sorting machines and done other things to interfere with timely mail delivery, there is no reason to automatically trust him or to assume he is honest.

The Vulnerabilities of Electronic Voting Equipment

Still another issue is electronic voting equipment, including ballot marking devices, which can be hacked or fraudulently programmed. When I discuss this situation with people, they often say “That sounds like a conspiracy theory.” However, it is hardly beyond the realm of possibility that some voting machine companies might be no more trustworthy than the incompetent company Cyber Ninjas that did the Arizona audit — or pretended to, as the company didn’t do a real audit.

Note that the essay on the subject below is in New York Review of Books, a publication with a high reputation — not some conspiracy theory web site. It is the simple truth that electronic voting equipment could be used to commit fraud. Also, the software is proprietary — secret — by patent law, so fraud, if it were to occur, could easily remain undetected.

Jennifer Cohn, who authored the essay above, and Jonathan Simon are both on Twitter and should be followed by Twitter users, for up-to-date information on this situation. Their Twitter handles are @jennycohn1 and @jonathansimon14

There are actual conspiracy theories about voting machine fraud being circulated by Trump and his allies — because that’s one more avenue Trump is pursuing to claim he actually won the election. It’s unknown whether any fraud did take place. However, if it did, it would more likely have been done to help Republicans, since the main voting machine company is a GOP donor.

It’s okay with me if Trump supporters join the rest of us in the demand for hand marked paper ballots, which are the safest election system.

Regardless of whether fraud took place or didn’t, Americans should be using hand marked paper ballots — not voting machines or ballot marking devices. Electronic voting systems are too insecure and too opaque for us to continue to trust them with the most important decisions we make in our democracy. Here are some of the risks.


What Can You Do about All This?

What can you do about all this? You can phone and write your elected representatives and ask them to act more aggressively toward corrupt Republicans and to stand up for the people against corruption. We can also ask that Democratic leaders like Jaime Harrison at the DNC, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi get Democrats to use repeated talking points to communicate their vision and goals. If they don’t, they are ceding the national narrative to the GOP, which does use repeated talking points — currently without any counter narrative from Democrats.

If you feel too shy to do this, please consider taking an assertiveness training class, for example, at a local community college. I suppose the classes must be on Zoom during the COVID precaution time period.

As Gandhi said, we must “Be the change we want to see” — in this case, a change in the assertiveness of our elected representatives.

We can also phone or write mainstream media organizations to let them know if we find a newspaper article, or a TV show or radio show, covering both parties as if they are equal, in a case where only one side is corrupt or constantly lying about easily verifiable facts. We can demand that mainstream media show commitment to truth, justice and democracy.

Dealing with the effects of Right Wing media will be a long term project. Mediamatters.org keeps track of Fox “News” advertisers. Some of us phone them to request they remove their ads from lying fear mongering media that are destroying democracy.

More methods of dealing with Right Wing media lies and spreading truth are in this essay.

We can also join organizations that push for paper ballots in all states.

We’ve already gotten Trump defeated. That’s one very large step. Some of these other goals will take a while. If we just put one foot in front of the other and go forward, taking some rests now and then, we’ll reach the other goals as well, in time.