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What's in Store for Progressive Politics in 2020?

Faculty at a discussion

Wrapping up his spring seminar series, Inaugural Sine Institute of Policy & Politics Fellow Abdul El-Sayed recently hosted David Weigel, national political reporter for The Washington Post, to talk about progressive landscape in the leadup to the 2020 Election.

Weigel gave his take on the emerging field of Democratic presidential candidates and dynamics at play in the presidential primary, along with El-Sayed, who ran as a progressive in the primary race for governor of Michigan in 2018. 

The two discussed how many politicians are talking about issues in a progressive framework, such as relying on government to provide health care and education as a public good and criticizing the role of corporations in the public space.

“These conversations are already shaping the debate in 2020,” said El-Sayed. “Everybody calls themselves a progressive these days. The question of what makes a progressive candidate progressive, in the final telling, is about what they will do once in office — Who are they listening to? Who is going to be around them? Who will have power in their administration? And what does that create on the ground in their work with policymakers?”

Weigel wrote about conservatives and the Tea Party movement before covering progressive politics starting in 2016. At both ends of the spectrum, he said he heard frustration about the way the system works. In his reporting, Weigel said he tries to avoid asking obvious questions about labels such as “Are you a socialist?” and listen to what matters to people in the crowds — not what is being posed to candidates on television.

“Everyone is criticizing the way things are right now,” said Weigel. “Asking the root causes of what people see as problems and the roots of their ideological approach to them I find a lot more useful.”

Weigel said that his strategy is to follow voters at the base of the parties to see what is driving policy positions. "Those who followed the conservative base during the last election were not surprised by the success of Donald Trump," Weigel said.

“Often, early in the process, voters have not assigned policies with candidates,” said Weigel. “I find voters are often more sophisticated than what you assume. … There is a school of thought that became very hardened that you have to run this way to win, and if you pitch ideas from the fringe you are going to scare people and alienate them. The fact that is not happening, I think, is the most interesting thing happening in politics.”