It’s election year in the US, and for some, the stakes could not be higher. President Joe Biden has made it clear that this election is about asking “whether democracy is still America’s sacred cause.” Say what you want about him, but I believe he certainly isn’t being hyperbolic, with such language being a part of Democratic identity since Donald Trump defied expectations to take the White House in 2016. 

Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stated that “CNN should be ashamed of themselves” over the network’s decision to host a town hall with Trump. Shenna Bellows, the Maine Democrat secretary of state, has been facing criticism even from within her own party for removing Trump from the Maine ballot, on the grounds that such a decision has never occurred in US politics. 

While criticisms of Trump are more than fair, I don’t think the Democrats basing their whole identity around criticizing Trump is getting the party anywhere. 

Current 270toWin polling results have Trump with a 3.2-per cent lead nationally. The political feuding that seems to be the backbone of modern political discourse is getting the Democrats nowhere, despite how much they criticize Trump.

In my view, this failure comes down to the fact that the constant Democratic attacks suit Trump’s populist campaign style perfectly. Despite what he may do in practice, Trump has always positioned himself as “the voice” of the people: the only one willing to criticize the ‘liberal elite’ and stand up for the ‘real Americans’ who help “make America great again.” 

For his supporters, Trump’s narrative of the repressive democrats is only validated through constant attacks from left-wing politicians, comedians, and everyone in between. The January 6 insurrection only heightened this discourse. The Democratic Party has become what former president Barack Obama, in his 2006 autobiography, wrote he expected it would become: “the party of reaction.” So, how can the Democratic Party regain the nation’s favour?

Less negative campaigning, more small town halls

For starters, the Democrats need to be the party that moves away from negative campaigning. In 2018, 91 per cent of US voters on either side of the political spectrum in a Pew Research Center survey said that it was essential for politicians to “be honest and ethical” above all else. This shows that most people don’t want politicians telling the public why their rivals are wrong but instead why voters should vote for them. Thus, if Trump spends his campaign on the offensive, I believe the Democrats must not engage in childish politics and instead take the honorable and ethical high ground of focusing on their accomplishments. 

In 2023, the White House’s Council of Economic Advisors referred to the US economy’s growth as having “defied expectations” and current unemployment is lower than the country’s long term average rates. It is these kinds of successes I believe the Democrats must convey. They must focus on their strengths rather than Trump’s character flaws to create the picture of a stronger America under the Democrats, not a divided one. 

I believe what the Democratic party needs most is simple, small-scale campaigning that focuses on individuals or groups of citizens. For many, it may seem like the party isn’t focused on the little guy like it was set up to do, so it will be crucial for the party to actively seek average Americans out on the campaign trail. 

In his book The Audacity of Hope, Obama stresses the importance of a long face-to-face campaign as a way to understand the electorate. He writes that he imagines ordinary people “are waiting for a politics with the maturity to balance idealism and realism.” It is exactly these kinds of people that I believe the Democrats need to find. 

To reach across the nation, I believe the party must minimize social media campaigning. While social media may seem the most accessible way to reach an audience, I see the approach as lacking a human touch, creating a divide between politicians and voters, as — according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey — both politicians and voters said they “distrust social media sites for political and electoral news.” Instead, politicians need to be getting out on the road, across the country, to do their work. 

Current town hall-style rallies, like the one Trump hosted with CNN in May last year, lack the sense of warmth and togetherness that engage voters. Often, these events are filled with thousands of people and so most people don’t get the opportunity to get their views across to the politicians. 

Instead, town halls should be held in much smaller venues and towns across America, away from larger media, with attendances of perhaps only a few hundred. I believe this gives Biden and other Democrats the opportunity to have real, intimate conversations with voters. In such a setting, I can see politicians listen to the struggles citizens go through in their everyday lives, such as a union leader’s unfair dismissal by a megacorporation or a struggling family’s need for a strong after-school program. 

In addition to town halls, local community-organized events involving campaigning politicians will not only help increase the intimacy of such events but also get more people involved in both community and political action. 

In my view, if the Democrats want to show that they are the people’s party, this is exactly the kind of campaigning they need to be doing. They need to show America that the Democrats are not the party of the ‘elites,’ but the party that provides aid for struggling families or stands up for the small union against megacorporations. What most Americans want is a president who represents them and cares about them — and the Democrats can only show that this is who they are if they get out into the wild.

Felix Hughes is a first-year student at Trinity College studying humanities.