The Pnyx: On “Electability”

Jousha Schutez
Staff Writer

I had hoped that after the 2016 election, the question of which candidate was the most “electable”, would finally be consigned to the dustbin of political history. Unfortunately, that has not been the case, and the 2020 campaign, barely in its infancy, is already reeling with arguments over electability.

The problem with electability, as with so many other political terms, is that there is no real definition of what constitutes an “electable” candidate. 

For example, some argue that more centrist candidates are inherently more electable, since they might have the chance of bringing in voters from the other side. Recent political history has shown that not to be the case. Look no further than the fact that President Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, and then the presidency, rather than a moderate in the mould of Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney.

Is electability a matter of being scandal-free? Again, it’s difficult to see how this is the case. Both candidates in 2016 were plagued by allegations of scandal, the extent and severity of which will often depend on who you ask. 

Simply put, there’s little evidence that the traditional hallmarks of electability matter to the extent that they used to, if they even exist at all. This is not to imply that they do not matter at all (an unreasonable claim, in my estimation), but that their importance has diminished. Parties have less control of their nominations than they once did, leaving the nomination process to more ideologically inclined primary voters. 

My view is that the Democrats ought to nominate the candidate whose positions are most congruent with the policy preferences of the American public writ large. That’s the only “electability” that matters.

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