Massachusetts Special Election 2013: Biden’s Fundraiser Comments About Minority Turnout Reveal a Troubling Trend

Vice President Biden made headlines Tuesday night at a fundraiser for Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey, the Democratic candidate running for John Kerry’s recently vacated Senate seat, when he expressed doubt that black and Latino voters would turn out in the same numbers for Markey on June 25 as they did for Obama in last November’s presidential election. Biden’s remarks occur amidst an ever-increasing obsession on behalf of both political parties to corner precise demographic segments of the voting population, an obsession which seems to have prompted these parties to field candidates that fit voters preconceived policy and demographic expectations rather than those who promote innovative solutions to the many problems currently plaguing American policymakers.

The Massachusetts election that Biden is commenting on exemplifies this broader phenomenon quite well, as the Democrats are running an established, white, and moderately liberal congressman while Republicans are fielding Gabriel Gomez, a center-right Latino who is positioning himself as an outsider to Washington politics. Biden’s remarks last night exemplify fears from the Democratic camp that Gomez — as just one of many Latino candidates Republicans will likely field in next year’s midterm elections — might succeed in recapturing the formidable segment of Latino voters who turned out in surprising strength to reelect President Obama last year. Accordingly, Biden made his most publicized plea for donations on the grounds that the Massachusetts Democratic Party might loose the upcoming special election because of voter turnout demographics rather than the quality of the political message that Congressman Markey has been presenting to voters. 

This disproportionate focus on capturing demographics rather than the quality of a candidate’s political message is not unique to the upcoming special election in Massachusetts. From Bush’s pitch to soccer moms in 2004, to Obama’s youth vote in 2008, and the stunning black and Latino turnout in 2012, election strategists seem to have begun building their candidates' political messages off of the polled preferences of voting groups far more frequently than the core political philosophies of the parties that their candidates represent. As a result, these messages can emerge with repetitive, tired, and philosophically disjointed policy preferences that are already familiar to and supported by strategically important demographic groups instead of innovative, philosophically contiguous, and forward-looking policy preferences derived from extensive analysis of the liberal and conservative political traditions. With the United States facing a myriad of challenges ranging from its crippling national debt, to a rising China, potential abuses of government surveillance power, and an ever-resilient asymmetric terrorist threat, Americans must ask themselves whether they will be satisfied with the unimaginative candidates elevated by this focus on demographic electioneering or will instead demand more creative policy options from their country’s two most powerful political parties.