As the U.S. faces more than 200,000 COVID-19-related deaths, economic despair and a presidential election campaign, Joe Biden has positioned himself as a safe choice and great American unifier. His message during August’s Democratic National Convention: Whether you are a moderate Republican or a far-left progressive, a Biden presidency is the country’s best hope. It was similar to Hilary Clinton’s message in 2016, when she campaigned primarily on the basis of being a “non-Trump candidate” and touted empathy and decency above all.
But as Clinton’s example shows, Biden’s strategy isn’t foolproof. His message of unity resonates most with voters who are already committed to him—not swing voters nor progressives wary of his policy platform. And his appeals to the right read as unconvincing; after all, his four-decade history in the Senate and as vice president seals his reputation as a solid Democratic elite.
Instead, a strong policy platform is what can set Biden apart from the ghost of 2016 and, more importantly, from Trump in battleground states. Here are six progressive policy points that could give Biden the edge over Trump in November’s election.
The Equality Act
LGBTQ2 Americans still lack basic social and economic protections across the country. The Equality Act, if enacted, would explicitly give anti-discrimination protection on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services and federally funded programs. The House of Representatives passed this bill in March 2019; it is currently waiting to be heard in the Senate. Biden supports this bill.
The Democratic candidate also has support from major LGBTQ2 organizations and advocates, such as the Human Rights Campaign and the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, and more than 300 LGBTQ2 leaders have endorsed him.
But the Senate is Republican-run and the Trump administration does not support The Equality Act, so the bill has stalled. The Senate will need to flip in order for the bill to pass and the president to sign it. Otherwise, Biden has not yet committed to implementing an executive order to pass similar protections for the LGBTQ2 community.
$15 minimum wage bill
The federal minimum wage in the U.S.—which applies to states that do not have their own minimum wage—is currently USD $7.25 per hour. Texas, for example, adopted the federal wage minimum in 2009, so its wage has been $7.25 ever since.
According to a July 2019 Pew Research Center report, two-thirds of Americans support a $15 minimum wage bill. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there has been an increased awareness that the majority of low-income Americans are the ones feeding us, caring for our elders and supporting us as essential frontline workers, which has resulted in even greater support to increase wages. A 2016 report from the Williams Institute found that raising the minimum wage would also help to decrease poverty by almost 50 percent among female same-sex couples and by 35 percent among male same-sex couples.
Biden supports this increase, in addition to indexing the minimum wage to the median wage so that the wages of low-income workers increase automatically with middle-income workers.
According to a November 2019 Pew Research Poll, two-thirds of Americans support legalizing marijuana. The issue even has bipartisan support, with Republicans joining the debate on the grounds of its possible economic boost.
But Biden has publicly been unsupportive of the policy, with some Democratic aides citing that he has public health concerns. And while there are valid concerns, legalizing marijuana would be a step toward reforming a criminal justice system in which Black defendants receive harsher penalties and prison sentences than white defendants.
If the Trump administration were to seize on this opportunity before the November election, it may affect Biden’s performance in swing states where marijuana legalization is popular, such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida—particularly if voters fear a reversal on legalization if Biden is elected.
Cancelling student debt
Biden does not believe in universal cancellation of student loan debt. Instead, he wants to simplify the current student loan forgiveness program for graduates that enter into public service. Many Americans have mixed feelings about this program: It’s notoriously difficult to apply to, and hundreds of thousands of eligible borrowers have been rejected (its approval rate is less than 1.5 percent).
Biden also plans to lower the monthly payments on undergraduate loans to make repayment more affordable and offer possible forgiveness after 20 years of repayment. For future students, he plans to double the amount of Pell Grants (a college subsidy offered to students by the federal government), provide tuition-free community college to everyone and tuition-free four-year public universities for students whose family income is below $125,000 a year.
However, 58 percent of registered voters support universal student debt cancellation and tuition-free public university. More specifically, this issue has overwhelming support from Democrats and Independents—the demographic he is targeting for a high turn-out in November.
Single-payer universal health care system
Dubbed “Medicare for All” by Senator Bernie Sanders, some states are moving toward a single-payer universal health care system—especially in the midst of COVID-19. Biden’s platform does not include support for Medicare for All but instead a “public option” allowing Americans to purchase health insurance directly from the government. Last month, more than 1,000 Democratic delegates refused to endorse the party platform because it excluded Medicare for All. While this did not change Biden’s nomination, the lack of delegate support raises the question: Can Biden energize enough Democrats and Independents to vote for him after excluding a very popular policy?
And the support for single-payer universal health care exists: When the Michigan Democratic Party voted to include an immediate Medicare for All policy as priority for state representatives in the beginning of September, it won 98 percent of delegate votes. In Pennsylvania, the city councils of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Alleghany County passed resolutions to support Medicare for All in 2018. In 2020, three more cities passed similar resolutions, representing 3 million people in Pennsylvania.
In 2016, Trump won both these states by a hair—less than 50,000 votes in Pennsylvania and just under 11,000 votes in Michigan. So while Biden’s public option for health care may be enough to sway hardcore Democrats, it may not be enough to give him an edge in November.
Universal voting by mail
Vote-by-mail became the de facto campaign issue thanks to COVID-19. As a result, a movement to conduct universal voting by mail in order to increase voter participation has gained traction over the past few months. This policy is significant given America’s history of voter suppression at the polls, particularly targeting Black and Indigenous communities. Voting by mail could also increase participation among gender nonconforming people whose eligibility to vote would not be challenged based on their gender expression. And if history is any indication, the Democrats will want to improve access to voting: Lower voter turnout has hurt the party in the past.