Maggie Gates made it abundantly clear: she wasn’t going to “begrudgingly” vote for Joe Biden the way she did for Hillary Clinton back in 2016.
A 22-year-old progressive, the Washington resident said she felt detached from the Democratic Party during an interview in late March, as the novel coronavirus swept through the United States. If the Democrats weren’t willing to put forward a progressive stalwart like Bernie Sanders to confront the crisis, Gates said at the time, she would refuse to support the party’s presidential nominee.
But then something changed.
“Since I last spoke to you, many problems have escalated obviously,” Gates said in a text a week before the election. “The stakes are higher now and I cannot imagine living under four more years of Trump.”
Over the past year, The Independent has profiled voters in all 50 states — as well as Washington, DC and Puerto Rico — as part of the weekly series Polarized: Voices From Across America. The purpose of the project was to explore the nation’s political divisions, the reasons for them and how they can be overcome, and to get a better sense of where Americans like Gates stood on the burning issues of the day.
Former Vice President Joe Biden built a big tent while campaigning for the White House in 2020, courting everyone from past and present conservatives to independents and liberals alike. It was a strategic approach, campaign analysts said, noting how the Democratic nominee would require a diverse coalition of voting blocs to unseat President Donald Trump.
Put simply, experts suggested Biden needed to recruit as many voters like Gates as possible in order to secure a victory.
Gates, who lost her grandmother to coronavirus in May, said the president’s handling of the pandemic hits close to home.
“I still do not like Biden or believe he represents me or the majority of Americans, but I am reluctantly voting for [him] because I do think he will probably do a slightly better job than Trump,” she said.
We spoke to progressive voters across the country who echoed a similar sentiment as Gates expressed before she ultimately decided to support Biden: they were fed up with the Democratic Party and didn’t want to cast a ballot for anyone who wasn’t in their eyes a truly progressive candidate.
The catch? Many progressive voters we spoke to said they didn’t have the privilege this year to use their ballot as a protest against the Democratic Party establishment. Not with the pandemic raging on and no solution in sight to systemic racism and other issues plaguing the country.
“I have children who were given to me at birth and kids who were acquired along the way,” said CeCelia Garrett, a 46-year-old Democratic voter who goes by CeCe, and runs a crisis phone line with her husband in Mississippi. She and her husband moved to the state to start an LGBTQIA-affirming ministry and crisis response team after 2011 saw a wave of suicides and violence in the area.
Garrett was a strong Sanders supporter during the Democratic primaries, but said she would be voting for Biden for her children.
“I honestly will vote for whoever wins the Democratic nomination because I need safety for the people that I care for,” she said when we spoke earlier this year. “In order to find safety for those folks, Trump needs to be voted out of office.”
Not everyone we spoke to who supported Sanders throughout the primaries was willing to cast a ballot for Biden by the time The Independent caught up with several Polarized subjects in October for a Zoom panel.
Jennifer Lewis-Kelly, a self-described “die-hard” Sanders supporter, said Biden “hasn't earned her vote yet” when we spoke in March.
The 42-year-old Missouri Democrat wanted to volunteer for the former vice president’s campaign and help push a progressive agenda, but said her application was rejected. In a sense, that’s exactly how she said she feels about the Democratic Party: rejected.
When we caught up with Lewis-Kelly, she acknowledged what she saw as a need to remove Trump from office, but declined to say whether she would cast her ballot for Biden. When asked who she would vote for just days before Election Day, Lewis-Kelly responded with a long laugh, then said: “I still have no idea.”
However, and though it’s only an anecdotal observation by this reporter after speaking to more than 75 voters across the country, the vast majority of those who supported Sanders had moved to voting for Biden by Election Day. The same went for supporters of Elizabeth Warren. Those included Maryland voter Kristin Treado, who said she would be voting for the Democratic nominee regardless of the primary results.
In fact, of the 52 people featured in this series, five voters said they supported Warren and 16 said they supported Sanders during the primaries. All five Warren supporters indicated they would be voting for Biden, while 13 out of the 16 Sanders supporters also said they would cast their ballots for the Democratic nominee.
Others, however, said they would not be supporting Biden. South Carolina voter Gavin Kidder, who said he was a strong supporter of progressive policies such as universal health care, a central component of Sanders’ campaign, is among them.
Speaking about the former vice president, Kidder said: “I consider him to be part of the establishment, a part of that top 1 percent … I feel like if he was elected, he’d put in a couple of measures to make it seem like he was trying to implement change in our country, but not go all the way to ensure positive change was actually happening.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies