ASCH: Progressive voters’ purity test is a recipe for electoral disaster

Uniform thinking does not pave a victorious path for democracy or political parties


Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam campaigned with former President Barack Obama in Richmond Oct. 19.

Mariana Fraser | Cavalier Daily

In last year’s U.S. presidential election, many Democratic voters expressed their displeasure with Hillary Clinton by propelling Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to a surprisingly close primary finish. This is mostly due to Clinton’s past support for international trade deals, the speaking fees she took from Wall Street and her opposition to key liberal policies, such as a $15 minimum wage and a single payer health-care system. These actions and stances proved too much for the liberal base, and many could not see themselves voting for her in the general election. Liberal voters expressed their discontent with her candidacy throughout the Democratic National Convention. All this despite the fact that Clinton and Sanders voted together when they served in the Senate nearly 93 percent of the time. 

What these voters displayed during the Democratic primary and general election is an unwillingness to compromise and a view that candidates need to be completely aligned with their own views to earn their vote. If these voters refuse to compromise with the more moderate wing of the Democratic party, this worrying trend will continue and spell electoral disaster for Democrats at all levels of government. 

Many in the liberal base would refute this argument by pointing at Clinton’s loss in the 2016 election as proof that a more liberal candidate would have been victorious. However, this is a false assertion. If anything, the 2016 election actually serves as a perfect example of why many liberal voters’ purity tests will lead to electoral failure for Democrats. In fact, an analysis of the 2016 election reveals the number of votes Green party candidate Jill Stein received in the 2016 election in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, were greater than President Donald Trump’s margin of victory in those states. Another study showed that a full 12 percent of Sanders’ primary voters jumped ship and voted for Trump, which, combined with the amount of votes lost to Jill Stein, was enough to swing the election to Trump. These facts show for certain that despite Clinton’s deficiencies as a candidate, it was actually liberal purists who ensured her defeat. 

This trend that emerged in last year’s presidential election will be put to the test again tomorrow during the Virginia Gubernatorial election. In Virginia, establishment pick Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam was primaried by a more liberal challenger, former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.). Over the course of the Democratic primary, Perriello was endorsed by prominent liberals like Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Northam won the Democratic primary, and despite having Perriello campaign for him just like Sanders did for Clinton, he has had trouble gathering the support of liberal groups. Many environmentalists are disappointed that he did not express outright disapproval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, or receive an endorsement from the Sanders affiliated group “Our Revolution.” Also, the liberal group Democracy for America, has now decided to stop its “direct aid” to the Northam campaign following problematic comments he made about sanctuary cities. This reluctance to rally around an imperfect Democratic nominee shows the same trend which occurred in the latest presidential election is happening again. If progressives do not stop this and start working for the candidate who is most likely to align with their views, they will ensure a Republican victory. 

Besides it being bad tactics for an election, ideological purity is also bad for democracy. Proponents of an ideological purity test are horribly wrong to insinuate that there is only one ideological lense through which a political party should view the world. When two candidates of one party enter into a primary, it is healthy for those individuals to spar over the issues. Often times, the winner emerges as a more effective general election candidate. If liberals refuse to see this truth they will end up like core Trump voters, where there is a litmus test for being acceptable, and any contrarian is thought of as completely unacceptable. 

Democrats are a diverse group of individuals, racially and ideologically. To capitalize on this breadth of knowledge, they need to compromise and it is necessary that they emphasize unity. Uniform thinking is not good for a democracy or a political party. Diverse opinions are needed so parties can continue to move forward and create the most effective policies. Sabotaging a candidate you may not totally agree with instead of engaging with them is no way for a democracy to function. By helping to elect a candidate who is closer to their views, liberal voters would ensure that if their candidate wins office they will be far more responsive to their cause than a Republican ever would be. With election season upon us once more, it behooves Democrats to look at the facts and decide if they want to win or be ideologically pure. 

Jacob Asch is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He may be reached at

related stories