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  • Writer's pictureKaren Young

How can we support Biden and still grow progressive power?

Welcome to SWOT Sunday!

I added a new threat to my SWOT analysis. If Joe Biden were to lose the election to Donald Trump, it’s impossible to overstate the devastation that would follow.  Last time, it was a full-blown nightmare, and Trump was just learning where the bathroom was, so to speak.  This time would be much worse.

That being said, there are a lot of good reasons for people to prefer staying home than going out to vote for Biden.  So to me, the question is: How can we help Biden get re-elected and still build progressive power? 

A few things we could focus on:  Helping get the word out about the progressive victories that Biden DID get done.  Ending US support for Israel’s war on Gaza.  Forcing Biden to recognize he can’t win without progressives, youth and African Americans, and embrace stronger positions and actions on key issues.  Saving the Senate and electing more progressives to the House, state and local offices. 

The progressive movement would be stronger after the election, if we accomplished even some of these things.

Gaza: Biden’s Vietnam?

The opposition to the war in Gaza grows bigger and more intense every day.  A favorite Vietnam War chant – “Hey! Hey!  LBJ!  How many kids have you killed today?”  has been re-purposed by the protesters dogging Biden relentlessly.  At this moment, I wonder if the only thing that could prove to Biden that he MUST change course would be a primary loss.

Anti-war candidate “Clean for Gene” McCarthy almost beat LBJ in New Hampshire in 1968, and by the end of March, incumbent LBJ was out of the race. We don’t have a Gene McCarthy now, but there are still ways to show measurable dissatisfaction at the ballot box before the general election.

I’m not sure where I come down on it.  But if a primary loss could really move Biden, the place to start is Michigan, which is a swing state, has the largest Arab-American population in America, and has a significant Black population as well.  Their primary is Feb. 27.  (My birthday!) Dean Phillips and Marianne Williamson are on the ballot.  Anyone can vote in the Democratic party primary by selecting a Democratic ballot at the polling place.  

Marianne is a progressive, and not a terrible person by any means. You can also vote “uncommitted,” as some activists are recommending, but I think voting for another person would have more power.  Just saying.

If the primary strategy doesn’t work, I think what we can do on Gaza is just keep organizing, keep growing the opposition to the war, and keep connecting it to the election.  Biden’s support for Israel has also galvanized some Jewish supporters; visible Jewish opposition to the war is key.

Another lesson from 1968 is that Hubert Humphrey, who supported the war and won the Democratic nomination, lost the election to Richard Nixon, though he did start opposing the war (too) late in the game.

Biden Must Win Progressives, Youth and African-Americans: Show Him How

Unfortunately, there are those in the Democratic mainstream, and others, who think this is the time to get rid of those pesky progressives once and for all.  But still others understand that progressives are a key to victory. As a story in Politico says,  “this White House race, like the last two, is bound to be won on the margins, and Biden is at risk of losing critical younger and left-wing voters to third-party candidates or apathy.”  They point to hope that there will be a ceasefire soon and Biden can use that moment to really start pushing a political solution for Palestine, “yet Biden’s campaign can’t count on it — they must begin restoring the president’s standing on the left now.”

One thing that would be nice is if he would claim us as part of his base, and encourage Democrats that are trying to throw progressives off the ballot, primary them, sue them, etc. to stop.

How To Win The Youth Vote?

Young people have had less time to learn that Presidents don’t actually have that much power compared to Congress, state and local legislatures. Biden’s falling short is not just broken promises. Biden should make part of his campaign about building power for bolder policy, by supporting down-ballot Democrats and progressives as well. 

[Watching the Grammys while I write this – Miley Cyrus rocks! – pleased to see an ad for Biden/Harris!]

There is already strong energy among young people for local causes and elections.  Biden could go out and be seen with rising stars like Florida’s Maxwell Frost and Tennessee’s Justin J. Pearson (if they’d have him), and better yet, give a boost to their projects.

Biden is a natural politician who is really good with people.  He should be going to college campuses and other places where he could meet and listen to young people, like town halls and roundtable discussions. 

Of course, there ARE issues where young people are right to feel dissatisfied.  They’ve had success before and since 2020, fighting for and winning some changes.  They should come together and pick a few things they really want that could be delivered, be loud about the need to get them, and be ready to campaign when they do.  Organizing to push some specific asks should be fairly simple. Climate activists were very pleased with the recent pause on natural gas projects.

When I worked in sales, I learned an important question to ask to help win a negotiation: “What’s it going to take?" This question forces people to think about what matters most to them, and what their biggest objections are. Once you know that, you have a much better chance of making a deal. Biden's people need to ask this question, and young leaders need to have answers.

How to Win The Black Vote?

A survey of Black voters in late 2022 from KFF/the Grio showed some interesting data that points to key issues Biden needs to address with Black people.  There are many issues here where progressives have already been pushing policy solutions.  Working not just with Federal resources but with Democratic governors, Biden could help move stuff.  State legislatures are largely in session from now until summer. 

Black and Progressive organizations should come up with some specific asks and a list of places where a push could help get them done.

Some survey highlights:


One thing I noticed that shouldn’t be a surprise, but should always be considered when trying to win Black folks over, and that is how they can be politically moderate, especially culturally. About half of Black voters say their views in most political matters are moderate (54%), while 28% say they are liberal and 17% say conservative. 

Most Black voters support allowing public schools to teach students about sexual orientation and gender identity, but those who are parents are more divided. Nearly six in ten (58%) Black voters support allowing public school teachers to teach students about sexual orientation and gender identity. However, while a clear majority (61%) of Black voters who are not parents support this, Black voters who are parents of children under 18 are more divided (52% support and 48% oppose).

So maybe don’t lead with all the “woke” language in this room, and be ready to listen before you spout off on some of these things.

Voter Suppression

Seven in ten Black voters are worried about voter suppression. Majorities of Black voters say gerrymandering, limiting early voting, and voter ID laws are problems for Black representation in U.S. politics, with the largest share identifying gerrymandering as a major problem (64%), followed by limiting early voting (55%) and voter ID laws (39%).  What are Biden and Democrats doing on the ground in states to help fight voter suppression?

Other Top Issues

75% or more Black voters said the following were very important to their midterm vote:

-       voting rights (80%)

-       health care costs (78%)

-       gun violence (77%)

-       inflation, including gas prices (76%)

-       criminal justice and policing (75%)

-       affordability of housing (75%)

Around eight in ten (81%) feel the economic system in the U.S. is stacked against people like them and a similar share say the same about the U.S. political system (79%).  How are Biden and Democrats helping to level the playing field for Black people?


About three in ten (31%) Black voters say housing is the economic issue they most want the President and Congress to address, including higher shares of women, younger voters, and those with lower incomes.

Health Care

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Black voters say increasing funding for services that would improve health care for Black mothers and babies is a top priority.

About six in ten prioritize expanding government health insurance in ten states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs (62%).  Democrats probably don’t want to spend money on these stragglers right now, most in the Deep South, but swing states Wisconsin and Georgia haven’t expanded Medicaid yet.

57% also say it should be a top priority for Congress to increase funding to train medical professionals on anti-racism and how to provide culturally appropriate health care to Black people.

So much that could be tackled here!!

Racism in the Democratic Party

A large majority of Black voters see racism as a major problem in the Republican Party, and 30% say it is in the Democratic Party, too. Black voters draw a distinction between the two major parties when it comes to racism, with about three in four saying racism is a major problem in the Republican party (76%), compared to three in ten who say the same of the Democratic party. However, about half (53%) see racism as a minor problem in the Democratic Party, and fewer than one in five (17%) say racism is not a problem at all in the Democratic party.

Leadership won’t want to tackle this, I imagine, but surveys and focus groups could tease out some specific changes needed that progressives, at least, including electeds, could go out and fight for.


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