Consider a few issues that came up during the debate.
For instance, we heard about how the candidates broadly agree on the need for paid family leave. They differ on precisely how many months of leave should be offered and how such a program should be financed. But, according to a Post questionnaire recently sent to each candidate, every single politician still in the race supports some amount of guaranteed paid leave.
This view is squarely within the political mainstream, as you might expect from a policy that already exists in some form in nearly every other country on Earth. In fact, 90 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans support paid maternity leave, according to a Pew Research Center survey. For paid paternity leave, the shares are 79 percent and 57 percent, respectively.
Democratic candidates also showed significant overlap on other popular policies as well, such as the need for a more progressive tax code.
Yes, they differ on exactly how to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations, but basically all propose doing so. In espousing those ideas, they contrast sharply with their Republican politician counterparts, who advocate flatter tax rates and more cuts specifically for the rich. But in espousing these ideas, the Democratic candidates find common ground with Americans writ large, most of whom believe that both high-income people and corporations have not been paying their fair share.
Candidates, likewise, expressed broad agreement about the need to improve the affordability of child care, another policy stance shared by the American public.
Ditto for a litany of other kitchen-table issues, such as having the government do more to provide health insurance for more Americans. Again, Democrats might differ on the specifics of implementation — such as public option vs. single-payer — but their principles and priorities are broadly similar. Moreover, on this and other health issues, such as preserving protections for those with preexisting conditions, Democratic politicians align much more closely with Americans overall than Republican politicians do.
The same could also be said for a bunch of other issues that didn’t come up during Wednesday’s debate, such as universal background checks for gun purchases. It’s a policy supported by 89 percent of Americans, including 83 percent of Republicans, according to a recent Post/ABC News poll. And yet it's a policy Republican politicians refuse to enact.
Oddly, despite better reflecting the views of the American populace on these and a host of other policy issues than their GOP counterparts do, Democrats are increasingly viewed as a bunch of whackadoodle radicals. Republicans, somehow, are not. In a recent Quinnipiac poll, nearly half of respondents (47 percent) said they believed the Democratic Party had moved too far left; by contrast, just 37 percent said they believed the Republican Party had moved too far right.
Well, of course, some Democrats do advocate some polarizing ideas. And those polarizing ideas, or sometimes caricatures thereof, seem to dominate media coverage: elimination of all private health insurance, bans on burgers or airplanes, abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, confiscating your guns, etc.
These views do not represent the Democratic Party’s mainstream, nor the majority of Democrats running for president. But their prevalence within the primary campaign gets overstated nonetheless, for a few reasons.
First, both the GOP and the far-left minority within the Democratic Party have a vested interest in amplifying the fringiest party ideas and making Democrats overall seem much more liberal than they actually are.
Second, the primary field is crowded. Candidates have learned that bolder or at least more provocative ideas are more likely to get coverage in a competitive news cycle. Plus the goal in a primary after all is to show how you contrast with your fellow competitors, not how you all endorse the same popular ideas. So candidates play up their differences, which almost by definition are more likely to involve their less mainstream ideas.
And finally, the media gravitates toward conflict — even if areas of conflict are less common than areas of overlap either between the candidates, or between the candidates and their constituencies.
Unfortunately, these dynamics lead to a distorted image of what the Democratic contenders stand for, and also what voters care about. They also likely will not help position the eventual Democratic nominee to capture the general election.
There’s a strong, unapologetically progressive, massively popular agenda that Democrats should be evangelizing right now. If they want to win next November, they need to be more disciplined at amplifying it.