Democrats Are Not Going to 'Vote Harder,' Primaries Show

Democrats have been voting, and voting dutifully, for decades. After a disastrous week for liberal priorities thanks to the opinions of six unelected people, the question is: What has it got them?
Chuck Schumer celebrates historically low voter turnout
YUKI IWAMURA / Contributor via Getty

Shortly after a draft Supreme Court decision leaked suggesting the court would overturn Roe v Wade, the White House released a statement that read in part, “if the Court does overturn Roe, it will fall on our nation’s elected officials at all levels of government to protect a woman’s right to choose. And it will fall on voters to elect pro-choice officials this November.”


The Court, of course, did overturn Roe, and the message from the Democratic Party establishment has mostly been the same, a reaction that is most aptly summarized by the emerging meme of “Vote Harder.” The general theme is similar to the White House’s: If you don’t like it, vote for someone who will change it, an argument that sounds intuitive enough while obviously serving a political purpose for a party nearly everyone expects to get trounced in the midterms.

The Vote Harder meme has spread as a counterargument, a mocking of the party that keeps telling us to vote harder for a party that will eternally disappoint us. It is a phrase deployed by progressives and liberals frustrated with a Democratic establishment that has had control—however tenuous—of the House, Senate, and the Presidency for the last two years with virtually nothing to show for it, while an emboldened conservative majority on the Court decimates women's rights, the rights of states to enact sensible gun laws, and the federal government’s ability to fight climate change. In one week, the Supreme Court has accomplished more for the political Right than Democrats have in all branches of government for the last half-century combined.

For those paying close attention, one might notice Democrats specifically mention November when they encourage Americans to “vote harder.” They conveniently leave out the primary races that often determine what kind of Democrat we’ll be voting for, an important distinction considering the Democratic party is a coalition to a much greater degree than the Republican party. Whether intentional or not, Democratic party members seem to have internalized that message, as turnout in the primaries has been abysmal, to say the least.


New York held a primary on Tuesday which, in effect, decides who the next governor will be due to the overwhelming majority of democrats in the state. 864,968 registered democrats voted, just 14 percent of eligible voters. In the same primary cycle in 2018, 1,490,723 people voted. That’s a whopping 42 percent decline in democrat voters. Six out of seven registered democrats couldn’t be bothered to vote for our next governor. Turnout in Illinois was similarly pathetic. Ohio democrats also couldn’t be bothered. Colorado was better but still down from previous years

Vote Harder is a way of calling out the democratic establishment for gaslighting its supporters about why this is happening. This reality has almost nothing to do with vote tallies. Five of the nine Supreme Court justices were chosen by presidents who lost the popular vote. In regards to the Roe decision, Chief Justice John Roberts’ documented hesitancy to completely overturn the decision was rendered moot by the last-minute appointment of Amy Coney Barrett in the final days of the Trump presidency. Then-Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell rushed through that confirmation in the final days of an outgoing presidency, despite having previously held off confirmation hearings for more than a year for Merrick Garland under the guise that “the people” should determine the next Supreme Court justice in the forthcoming presidential election. This, of course, was a (completely made up) right he then denied to “the people” who elected Joe Biden. The real reason, of course, was because Garland did not pass the arch-conservative Federalist Society’s ideological purity test while Barrett very much did. In this very important instance, Democrats voted harder than Republicans and it didn’t matter.


These circumstances, which fundamentally altered the makeup of the Court and set the stage for the last week’s about-face of American society, had little to do with vote counts. It had everything to do with the exercise of power and which side of the American political spectrum has demonstrated a greater proficiency with it over the last 50 years. One other ruling the Court made this week was reinstating a redistricting map for Louisiana that even a conservative lower court found likely violated the Voting Rights Act. This Supreme Court ruling reinforced the very real way in which some people’s votes in this country count more than others, and many of our votes basically don’t count at all but are rather public performances to validate a predetermined outcome. And it may only get worse from here, as the Court agreed to hear a case next year regarding the so-called “independent state legislature doctrine” that would at best gut voting rights and at worst make elections totally irrelevant as state legislatures could simply override them. Vote Harder for the person already going to win.

Democrats would be wise to recognize how these events, including the election of a president who got trounced in the popular vote and confirmed three justices in one term, underscore the fundamentally anti-Democratic nature of modern America rather than trying to brute-force an anti-democratic system with more votes in places they don’t count. Democrats have been voting, and voting dutifully, for decades, only to watch six unelected rubes writing nation-changing rules that differentiate only from internet hot takes by the cloak of legitimacy the black robes they don afford them.

One could read the low primary voter turnout as democrats being a bunch of quitters, not as committed to their cause as Republicans are. But that would be a fundamental misreading of the situation. Democrat voters increasingly recognize they are not a blue wave of change, but backing the side flailing wildly in the ring while the other lands its calculated punches. Many democrats, both reluctant and enthusiastic, have been virtually begging elected officials to show some fight over the last week, to do something to show the Court they won’t simply sit back and watch a half-century and more of established rights get flushed out. One thing they could do is suggest out loud that the Court is risking its legitimacy, that Americans no longer regard it as an authority due to its blatant politicization, that the cloak of legitimacy is getting awfully billowy these days and the hyper-partisan political winds threaten to blow them off. 

One of these days, they might suggest, America’s governors or even the president might revive that old Andrew Jackson quote, “John Marshall has made his decision,” referring to the then-Supreme Court justice, “now let him enforce it.” The rub, of course, being that the Supreme Court cannot. It is up to us to determine whether we should listen to them. And when the court invents a legal pretext to say the Clean Air Act does not allow the Environmental Protection Agency to make air clean, condemning future generations of American children the Court is forcing women to have to an increasingly inhospitable planet, why should we? It is a question, at the very least, worth asking. Why are elected Democrats, by and large, not asking it? Until then, we have nothing—and no one—to vote harder for.