Democrats Have Moved Significantly to the Left Since 2010, New Study Shows

Democratic candidates for the U.S. House and Senate have embraced progressive policies like "Medicare for All" at much higher rates than they did in 2010.

Volunteers and supporters of the Democratic party start to arrive to an election watch night returns event at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Volunteers and supporters of the Democratic Party arrive at an election night event in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 6, 2018. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Democratic candidates across the board ran on significantly more progressive platforms this election cycle as compared to the last three election cycles, according to a new analysis of candidates for the U.S. House and Senate by the group Data for Progress.

The percentage of Democratic candidates who endorsed “Medicare for All,” Sen. Bernie Sanders’s signature health care proposal, or a Medicare buy-in surged from 27 percent in 2010 to 58 percent this election cycle.

House Democrats early on decided to pitch health care throughout the campaign season, and after years on the fringe, Sanders’s proposal erupted into popularity on the campaign trail, even in deep-red states like Kansas and Iowa. Even gubernatorial candidates in states like Georgia, Wisconsin, and Florida focused heavily on Medicaid expansion.

The changes tracked by Data for Progress, with support from MoveOn, come from a field of Democratic candidates who are one of the most diverse groups to run in U.S. political history. The 116th Congress is poised to include a number of historic firsts, including the first two Muslim women in the House: Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory over 10-term incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in a New York Democratic primary is typically held as the most representative example of the party’s burgeoning progressive shift. At 28 years old, she will likely be the youngest woman elected to Congress, and one of at least two members of the Democratic Socialists of America to be elected this year (Tlaib is the second). On the state level, legislative chambers are expected to turn blue and comprise majority women for the first time. Both congressional and state-level seats are projected to be younger, more racially diverse, and more likely to be LGBTQ.

Just months after 17 people were killed during a Parkland, Florida, school shooting, the field of Democratic candidates reflects a leftward shift in gun control stances, Data for Progress found. In 2010, 36 percent of Democratic candidates had received an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, compared to 19 percent that had an “F” rating. This year, 22 percent of Democratic candidates had an “A” rating, while 52 percent had an “F” rating.

At the heart of the most significant change in the Democratic Party is the dramatic rise of small-dollar donations, which has powered a new wave of progressive activism and given candidates a fundraising edge in the midterm elections. Reliance on individual small donors, as opposed to corporate PAC money, has fundamentally changed the way Democrats campaign into a people-powered approach and pushed moderates to the left in the process.

The Data for Progress analysis found that the share of money coming to Democratic candidates from PACs decreased from 11 percent in 2010 and 2014 to 7 percent in 2018. Notably, Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke set a midterm election spending record and raked in $38 million in a single fundraising quarter, thanks to an unprecedented number of small-dollar donations. There’s also been a marked shift on campaign finance reform: In 2010, only 13 percent of candidates supported overturning the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the floodgates for political spending; this year, that number jumped to 61 percent.

The analysis also looked at the diversity of the field of candidates. The share of Democratic candidates who are women has increased from 19 percent in 2010 to 50 percent in 2018. The share of first-time candidates (those who had never before run for federal or state office) went from 43 percent in 2010 to 67 percent 2018. The share of white candidates dropped from 86 percent in 2010 to 74 percent in 2018.

Correction: November 15, 2018
A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the incoming Congress as the 115th. It will be the 116th Congress. 


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