Port: Stymied Democrats could find more success through moderation

To build lasting political majorities in the American system requires more than appeal in our nation's dense population centers. That's a good thing, and it doesn't stop being a good thing because opportunistic politicians and hot-blooded activists find it inconvenient.

Photo by Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press

MINOT, N.D. — As an article of faith, our liberal friends and neighbors believe that the American political system is rigged in favor of Republicans.

Democratic presidential candidates consistently win the national popular vote, yet thanks to the Electoral College , we still elect Republicans to the White House with some regularity. In 2018, Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate, collectively, received 18 million more votes than their Republican opponents, and yet they still lost seats in that election.

"In 2020, Democrats were only about 90,000 votes away — less than a one-point across-the-board shift for president and Senate, and about a two-point shift in the House — from controlling literally none of the three levers," Washington Post columnist Aaron Rupar notes .

To put it succinctly, for Democrats to control the "three levels" of national government — the House, the Senate, and the White House — they have to win significantly more votes than Republicans do.

Democrats may have more voters, but Republicans have more jurisdictions.



Since 2004, when George W. Bush became the last Republican candidate to win the popular vote, national Democratic candidates have had an average 4.4% advantage over Republicans, but Republican candidates have won more states (101 for the GOP versus 99 for the Democrats).

The numbers advantage Democrats enjoy is neutralized in the American system because it was never intended to be an exercise in direct democracy. Heck, U.S. senators weren't popularly elected until the 17th amendment was ratified toward the beginning of the 20th century. (Changing that was a mistake, but that's a topic for another column.)

Liberals, on the short end of the stick, see this state of affairs as a problem. They yearn for more direct democracy. Many of them want to tear down the Electoral College . They whinge about the "overrepresentation of rural voters " in Senate elections. They hate on the filibuster.

As I write this, much of the liberal agenda in Washington, D.C., is on the rocks because Democrats, despite their advantages in the popular vote, have only a narrow majority in the House, and a technical majority in a split Senate thanks to the vice president's tie-breaking vote.

If that agenda had a broader geographical appeal, it would have better odds of passing, but it doesn't.

This is frustrating to our progressive friends for understandable reasons.


Inside the Prairie Hills Mall, voters came out to fill their ballots for the 2020 Elections. (Josiah C. Cuellar/The Dickinson)

This has prompted many liberals to believe the only way they can build lasting Democratic control of our national government is to change the rules because they aren't producing the election outcomes they want.

I would offer an alternative: Democrats should try moderating in ways that broaden their appeal outside of the densely populated urban and coastal communities that give them their numerical advantages.

I would argue that our system of government, with its emphasis on building not just popular majorities but jurisdictional majorities, was designed to promote exactly that.

Consensus building and compromise are challenging endeavors, all the more so in this era of polarizing populism. Also, those ideas don't seem to be things many voters are interested in. I suspect many of you wanted spit as you read my use of the term "moderate." It's become a dirty word in modern politics.

And yet, it's the only path forward if we want to get past the strife and partisan rancor we've been living with.

To build lasting political majorities in the American system requires more than appeal in our nation's dense population centers.

To the extent that it still exists today, the filibuster is a mandate for some degree of bipartisanship in the Senate.


Even low-population states like North Dakota get two Senators to ensure that our national policies value Bismarck's priorities alongside New York's.

The Electoral College means national candidates must spend at least some time considering what rural voters think is important.

These are good things that should be maintained, not trashed in the name of gaining partisan advantage.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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