At the ballot box in November, newcomer candidates within the Democratic Party claimed big wins. Ayanna Pressley, Massachusetts’ first black congresswoman, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old Democratic-Socialist Latina, toppled 10-term establishment Democrats in Massachusetts’ 7th and New York’s 14th districts respectively, using provocative, passionate campaigns to quickly gain a following. For some Americans, however, these two are not enough.
Connor Delaney, a self-described socialist and second-year business major at Northeastern, abstained from voting in last November’s election despite having passionate left-leaning views. To him, the Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans; they don’t listen to the people.
Delaney isn’t alone. According to a series of Gallup polls, Americans’ attitudes toward both the Democratic and Republican parties have become significantly less favorable over the past two decades, dropping from 57 percent and 52 percent favorable to 44 percent and 36 percent respectively.
In a similar vein, these polls show that the number of Americans identifying themselves as independents rose particularly dramatically — by 3 percent instead of the typical 1 percent — in the years following the 2016 election.
Gregory Goodale, an associate professor of political communication at Northeastern, said that for decades, the Democratic Party has lacked cohesive, authentic messaging and lacks a strong base.
“Democrats have always been worse at messaging than Republicans,” he said. “People vote based on personality, and personalities should be connected to message.”
Delaney said this deficiency is at the root of his problem with the majority of Democratic politicians. He pointed to Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent of Vermont, as an example of a genuine Democratic candidate, citing his arrest during a civil rights march in 1963. He said he doesn’t see the same honesty in mainstream nominees.
Hannah Pettit, who was president of the Northeastern University College Democrats during the fall 2018 semester, said that considering the diversity the party tries to represent, she thinks it is difficult for it to succeed strategically using sweeping messages.
“I believe that it’s impossible to have a cohesive message in the Democratic Party,” Pettit said. “The liberal message in Boston is not going to fly as the liberal message in South Dakota.”
Yael Sheinfeld, communications director for the College Democrats during the fall 2018 semester, thinks along similar lines. She said that at a local level, messages can be forceful, but that these same messages would struggle to succeed nationally.
“We have the opportunity to elect people like Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” she said, “and I think that’s a great way to set a precedent for a new wave of liberalism. But it’s not a [reasonable] idea to force that too soon on the whole country.”
Goodale argued that, even if imagery has to be vague, it can still be just as cohesive, as in the cases of Pressley and Ocasio-Cortez. And it can still win elections at a national level.
Goodale used Barack Obama’s presidential campaign slogan in 2008 — simply “Hope” — as an example. He said Obama’s strong, authentic message pushed him past establishment figures.
Goodale also said assertiveness is key in order for the Democratic Party to succeed in the future.
“A lot of [Democrats] are cowardly about offending people with a message,” he said.
Politicians’ focus on money, Delaney said — running the government like a business — is misplaced.
“If you’re gonna run the government like a business, run it like a good business,” he said. “The reason Google is successful is because they give high pay, free food, healthcare … If you make sure the people are doing better, that’s how you make a country do better.”
This focus on people, not donors or establishment norms, is what will help Democrats in the next election, Sheinfeld said.
“Trump was successful because he was a fresh face,” she said.
Putting his policies aside, Sheinfeld said he was seen by many as a man of the people, with a passionate, genuine message, rather than a man of politics.
“Democrats would benefit from emulating that on the most basic level,” she said.