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The Electability Trap

Do “electable” candidates really win?

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It’s impossible to know whether a political candidate is electable until they’ve actually been elected—but that hasn’t stopped pundits from speculating ad nauseam about the question. Episode 3 of The Politics of Everything investigates where the concept of electability comes from, the nature of the historical moments in which it crops up, and the risks we invite by using the term. How central to Joe Biden’s appeal is his ostensible electability? What do supposedly unelectable candidates have in common?
How much are voters prizing familiarity or “safety” over policy, and will this calculation get us into trouble? Hosts Laura Marsh and Alex Pareene talk to Seth Ackerman, the executive editor of Jacobin; Matt Karp, a historian at Princeton; and Rebecca Katz, the founder of New Deal Strategies, a progressive consulting firm.

Later in the episode, campaign reporter Walter Shapiro considers how coronavirus may shape the rest of the Democratic primary. Will the convention be held as planned in Milwaukee? Does anyone care if it isn’t?