Foreign Policy Was Missing from Most 2020 Democratic Campaign WebsitesA report by David Swanson for RootsAction.org
November 24, 2020
In 2020 Congressional elections, 78 percent of Democratic candidates' campaign websites informed the visitor of some sort of policy platform. These varied in length and depth, but many contained substantive proposals on dozens of issues. However, only 29 percent included foreign policy as one of the topics discussed. While militarism alone takes up over half of federal discretionary spending, most of those seeking responsibility to exercise that discretion had little or nothing to say about foreign policy, war, peace, diplomacy, weapons sales, bases, treaties, international law, or budgetary priorities.
Of the 15 Democrats newly elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, 100 percent had issues sections on their websites, and 33 percent of those included foreign policy.
Areas of possible concern here include the 22 percent of Democratic House candidates who didn't bother to include on their campaign websites any serious reference to any policies they intended to pursue in office at all; the 71 percent who didn't think they had to mention the single biggest thing Congress does; and the actual content of those foreign policy platforms that could be found on campaign websites.
Of the foreign policy platforms made available on the campaign websites of House Democrats, 74 percent advocated continued or increased militarism. They went beyond simply promoting the funding of local bases, which was common, and beyond simply promoting concern for veterans and members of the military, which was very common. They advocated militarism as good policy. These statements were a couple of sentences or several paragraphs. The longer ones sometimes included opposition to some war or weapon, but on balance promoted militarism significantly more than peace, nonviolence, or disarmament.
Another 11 percent of the foreign policy platforms of the House Democratic candidates who had any were so mixed or vague or brief that it is impossible to categorize them as more pro- or anti-militarist. But 14 percent clearly promoted decreased militarism. These 10 campaign websites belonged to incumbents Anna Eshoo, Raul Grijalva, Debra Haaland, Pramila Jayapal, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Ben Ray Lujan; and the newly elected Jamal Bowman and Mondaire Jones. (Lujan's campaign was for the Senate but was included in this study because he is currently in the House.)
To qualify as having a foreign policy section on their website for purposes of the preceding count, a candidate need only have included a couple of sentences on any aspect of foreign policy. In fact, 8 percent of the foreign policy platforms were exclusively about Israel, 1 percent exclusively about Iran, and 2 percent exclusively promoting Russiagate. Fewer than 5 candidates advocated any particular policy on each of the following topics: the military budget or its share in the overall budget, which wars to end or continue or start, which treaties or international agreements to join or abandon, which bases to close or maintain or open, what nuclear weapons to build or dismantle, what secret agencies to support or abolish, whether to continue killing people with missile strikes including from drones, or which nations to sell weapons to or give military training to or give military funding to (apart from lots of somewhat vague "support" expressed for Israel). No candidates took any position on any economic conversion program from militarism to green energy or other peaceful endeavors.
The strongest indication on many campaign websites of awareness that foreign policy even existed, or that by implication the 96 percent of humanity outside of the United States existed, was found in a policy section on veterans. This was found on 46 percent of the websites, in contrast to the 29 percent with a section on foreign policy. For those sites that had both of these sections, they were sometimes separate and sometimes combined into one, blurring the line rather blatantly between caring about veterans and supporting wars. Many sites also had a section on immigration policy.
Newcomers Slightly Improved
Looking just at the 15 new Democratic House members, while they all had issue sections of their websites, only 5 had a section on foreign policy, and one of those was exclusively about Israel. But none promoted more militarism, 3 gave mixed messages, and 2 were among the strongest platforms for demilitarization with the most extensive answers to various foreign policy questions. Those two were the campaign websites of Jamal Bowman and Mondaire Jones.
More to the Story
The campaign website is not the entirety of a campaign. Incumbent Congress members maintain two websites, a campaign site and a Congressional site. The latter virtually always has an issues section, and a majority of those sections mention foreign policy at least with a few words followed by links to press releases. This might help explain the absence of any opposition to war on the campaign sites of Mark Pocan, Ro Khanna, Barbara Lee, Rashida Tlaib, Jim McGovern, Peter DeFazio, or Earl Blumenauer. Even new candidates speak at events, on social media, through mass media, and via printed flyers. If we were comparing Twitter accounts, the newly elected Cori Bush might take the prize for strongest antiwar messaging. Yet it remains somehow acceptable for these candidates to completely omit the largest part (in budgetary terms) of the job they are applying for from their campaign websites.
House Democrats are not the whole of Congress. Republicans and Senate candidates may be slightly more likely to mention foreign policy -- which is not necessarily a good thing, considering the content of many of their positions.
Why it Matters
Foreign policy was largely absent from media coverage, from advertising, from debates, and from the 2020 presidential election. Joe Biden had no foreign policy section on his website and formed no foreign policy task force. In contrast to, for example, the 2006 elections in which voters told exit pollsters that ending the war on Iraq was their top concern, few voters seem to have been focused on foreign policy in 2020. Yet foreign policy will always be a major part of what Congress does, and holding so-called representatives to their campaign promises is easier if they've made any. Even determining what they might be inclined to do is vastly easier if they've expressed any opinions.
The Democratic Party Platform expresses a commitment to "end forever wars." But Congress is currently pushing to keep the war on Afghanistan going and even to keep troops in Germany and Korea. Military funding is regularly up for a vote. Ending the war on Yemen will be on the agenda in the coming months, as will relations with Cuba, Iran, and North Korea. So will disarmament treaties with Russia. So will sanctions against the International Criminal Court. So will weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. What positions Congress members can be expected to take and be lobbied to take would be much clearer if they were asked to express any opinions as part of their election campaigns.
What Can Be Done
RootsAction has created an online action page for emailing your Congress member and asking them to take prominent public positions on key questions of foreign policy and spending priorities, on both their Congressional and campaign websites, as well as in their public appearances.
Methodology and Data
The websites examined for this report were all examined between November 16th and November 22nd, 2020, and were found for the current House Democrats listed on Congress.gov, minus those lacking a relevant website. This included non-voting colonial delegates from Washington, D.C., and Pacific and Caribbean islands. It excluded the deceased Elijah Cummings and Donald Payne; the defeated Eliot Engels, Joseph Kennedy, and Collin Peterson; the retiring Nita Lowey and Jose Serrano; and those no site could be found for: Daniel Kildee, Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, and Bennie Thompson (the Homeland Security Chairman's website appears to have been hacked). Added to the 229 Congress members listed at Congress.gov for whom a relevant website was found were 15 newly elected members, bringing the total of websites examined to 244. Not included were new candidates who failed to win election.
Those websites considered to have an issues section were those with any sort of policy platform under any name -- "priorities" or "agenda" or "platform" or "record." Sometimes these included lengthy treatises on dozens of topics. Other times they consisted of a single sentence or less per issue. Sometimes they were buried in the "about me" section or otherwise hard to find. Sometimes they consisted of lists of bills sponsored or voted for, or just a series of photos with captions. Sometimes the whole issues section was on the homepage. Most issues sections contained numerous topics. Some contained very few. A website that contained only information on COVID pandemic resources was not considered to possess an issues section. Of incumbents' sites, 176 had issues sections. Of newcomers' sites, 15 had issues sections. That amounts to 78% of the total 244 websites examined. Of incumbents' sites, 53 had no issues sections. Of newcomers' sites, 0 had no issues sections.
Of incumbents' sites, 65 had a foreign policy section. Of newcomers' sites, 5 had a foreign policy section. Included in this count were 6 with a section only about Israel, one with a section only about Iran, and 2 with sections only about Russiagate. Not included was one with a section only against nuclear weapons testing. There were 52 websites, all belonging to incumbents, that promoted militarism in some way, usually very briefly, and 8 that were mixed or unclear, but 10 (listed above) that leaned toward reducing militarism.
Of incumbents' websites, 108, and of newcomers' 5, had sections on policies related to veterans.
These were the 15 websites of the newly elected House Democrats:
These were the 229 websites of the incumbents: