The 2022 DC Primaries and the Future of the District

The 2022 District of Columbia primary marked an important shift in the politics of the District, and the results say a lot about the city and its future. The results show a city deeply polarized by race, class and age, but also one with new opportunities for a real multiracial movement for liberatory politics. The District saw a 58% increase in Democratic primary turnout over 2018, rising even higher in working-class and majority-Black areas. Progressives, in particular, saw a surge in support, winning a likely majority on the DC Council for the first time and closing the gap dramatically on moderate incumbents in District-wide contests for Mayor, Council Chair, and Council At-Large – races that few expected to be close. The 2022 primary concretely indicates that the rising progressive pole in District politics, centered around democratic membership organizations and labor unions, is one of the major forces vying for power and is here to stay. The results reveal a new set of coalitions that are depolarizing around race and repolarizing around class, with an emerging base of highly ideological, consistent progressive voters, and with clear opportunities for a Left that can win and govern Districtwide with the correct analysis, priorities, and organization.1 

A Brief History of Electoral Politics in DC

Electoral politics in DC as we know it dates to the immediate lead-up to Home Rule in 1974 – which provided the District a limited degree of self-governance and an elected government – and the organizations and institutions that emerged from the Home Rule Movement into the new electoral space. Most of the District’s early elected leadership came from the Civil Rights Movement and the related Home Rule Movement. The politics that materialized from this movement broadly diverged into an establishment majority that would mostly govern the city for the next 40 years and a radical minority represented by the DC Statehood Party. 

The establishment majority created a powerful political machine representing the working class Black majority of the city, rooted in civil society and delivering services for its constituents. While this machine developed small-c conservative characteristics as it became entrenched in the institutions of the District, it continued to deliver results for working-class Washingtonians. It remained rooted in the communities of the District. This machine governed the city via leaders like “mayor-for-life” Marion Barry into the 21st century. 

The radical pole within the District was primarily based in the DC Statehood Party. It was a real force in electoral politics throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, represented on the DC Council first by Julius Hobson and then Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) member Hilda Mason. Other radical groups like DSA were also active in electoral politics in the 1980s. Radical electoral politics in DC culminated in the 1982 Statehood Convention, which boasted a powerful and active Left Caucus among its elected delegates. The results of the convention were never ratified and implemented, which led to a lessening in political activity among the DC working class. This radical wing lost power over time, losing council representation in 1998 to Republican David Catania and mostly dissipating as an electoral force following the Statehood Party’s merger with the Greens in 1999 and the retirement or death of the original radical leaders from the Home Rule Movement. During this period, the predominantly (very) wealthy white minority of the District often bitterly opposed Barry and the machine, with complaints about “corruption” and “good governance” that masked racial and class antipathy. This minority was able to exercise a degree of power through a conservative council minority.

The Green Team and DC’s New Majority

Beginning in the late 1990s, a new neoliberal faction in DC politics disrupted the status quo. This group focused on issues of “modernization,” growth and development, and promoting “efficiency.” Behind these catchphrases was a well-financed agenda of privatization, austerity, gentrification, and upward redistribution of wealth – taking services out of the hands of the state and placing them at the whims of the market. Anthony Williams, the post-Barry mayor, served as a bridge between traditional DC politics and this new era. During this era, the District was in large part under the control of a federally-imposed Financial Control Board rather than the elected leadership. The Board initiated austerity policies under the mandate of balancing the budget from 1995-2001. As these policies began to be implemented, they helped the neoliberal faction electorally by facilitating the displacement of working class, predominantly Black residents with whiter, wealthier residents taking their place. This faction reached the summit of power in the District, which they still control, with the election of neoliberal mayor extraordinaire Adrian Fenty in 2006 and his “Green Team” of lawmakers backed by capital, particularly real estate capital. 

Fenty and the neoliberal governing majority moved quickly to “modernize” the city by decimating public services and crushing organized labor, moving schools into mayoral control, effectively privatizing nearly half of the schools in the city through expansion of charter schools, and funneling public dollars into market-rate development projects in working class neighborhoods that moved vast swaths of the city’s housing stock outside of rent control. This emphasis on growth and market-based solutions at all costs created a new class dynamic in the District, one which underpins the current political climate in DCand may contain the seed of a majoritarian working class coalition. These neoliberal policies facilitated the growth of a new precarious class: both people moving into the city and long-time residents living in gentrifying neighborhoods, as well as a massive left-behind class in undeveloped areas  that lost the services provided by the machine and are victims of the dissolution of civil society institutions, privatization, and the upward redistribution of wealth.

The last gasp of the fading machine was also one of the last counterstrikes against the neoliberal onslaught, with the backlash against Fenty’s policies giving Ward 7 lawmaker Vince Gray a close win in the 2010 mayoral election. Elections in this time were hyper-polarized by race, with Fenty and allied neoliberal lawmakers often winning 80% or more of white voters and losing a similar percentage among Black voters. During this period, there was no actual progressive pole in local politics; no alternative to either the staid and conservative machine or the creative destruction of the neoliberal Green Team.

2010 DC Mayoral Primary Results and 2010 Census results by Black percentage

The Green Team came roaring back with the win of Muriel Bowser in 2014, in a primary also heavily polarized by race. Gray’s unpopular tenure caused a collapse in working-class Black turnout. At the same time, Bowser was able to peel away higher-income Black homeowners west of the Anacostia River, especially in her home, Ward 4. Bowser won the general election in another racially polarized neoliberal-on-neoliberal contest against Republican-turned-independent David Catania. 

During Bowser’s tenure, the changing demographics of the District, the results of her policies, a broader shift in intra-Democratic coalitions, and the return of membership organizations have helped create a new pole in DC politics to challenge the neoliberal dominance: a progressive coalition that has emerged as a clear electorate and grown in the period since 2016. This coalition has centered on membership-based organizations like Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America, DC for Democracy, Jews United for Justice, Sunrise Movement, and the Working Families Party, as well as many labor unions, in particular the Washington Teacher’s Union. Progressives began challenging races in earnest in 2018, with the primary campaigns of Ed Lazere for council chair and Jeremiah Lowery for at-large councilmember, and ramped up dramatically in 2020, scoring a significant win with Ward 4 Democratic Socialist Janeese Lewis George.

2022 DC Democratic Mayoral Primary by precinct winner, shaded by winning vote share

The 2022 primary showed definitively that DC has a new political landscape, defined by recently formed (and still forming) coalitions and cleaved by race, class, age, and geography into a District that may as well be three different worlds. The race pitted two-term incumbent Muriel Bowser, a moderate, neoliberal candidate, against At-Large Councilmember Robert White, who became the standard-bearer for the District’s progressive organizations, and youthful Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White. Bowser triumphed by a narrower margin than expected, winning with 49% of the vote to Robert White’s 40% and Trayon White’s 9%. Beneath these results, there is a deeply divided city: a city that seems divided into three clear communities, each of which can be represented by one of the three major candidates. 

Correlation and statistical relationship between 2022 DC Democratic Mayoral Primary support by precinct and select demographic variables
Chart showing three geographic areas of DC, the citizen voting age population (CVAP), turnout and the percentage of the total, 2022 primary results, 2018 Council Chair results, and 2018-2022 swing against Council Chair Phil Mendelson.
Three geographic areas of DC: West of Rock Creek (red), East of the Anacostia River (green), Between the Rivers (blue)

Bowser's DC

Bowser’s victory makes sense given her status as a two-term incumbent and universal name recognition. That said, her performance showcased evident discontent with her administration. Bowser was strongest in Ward 3 (DC’s whitest, wealthiest, and oldest) with 63% and was weakest in Ward 8 (DC’s Blackest and most working-class) with under 39%. Bowser won everywhere else but Ward 1, DC’s densest, most diverse, and most progressive ward, which was carried by Robert White. (Ward 1 was the only ward won by District-wide Democratic Socialist candidates like Jeremiah Lowery in 2018, Ed Lazere in 2020, and Mysiki Valentine in 2020.) Overall, Bowser won 63% of the vote in the very wealthy (median household income of over $150,000 a year) and white precincts west of Rock Creek, contrasted with 42% in the nearly entirely Black and working class precincts east of the Anacostia River. Bowser also won in wealthier, white-majority Capitol Hill and a few older, higher-income, high homeownership Black-majority precincts near the Maryland border and in Ward 7, east of the Anacostia. 

Bowser support level by precinct

Bowser’s level of support shows who is satisfied with the state of politics in the District and with her administration and policies. Bowser is supported by a DC that is vastly whiter, wealthier, older, and more likely to own a home than the population of the District at large. These are predominantly leafy neighborhoods of large, extremely valuable single-family homes – far from Metro stations, often with their own private police forces. This is a DC unrecognizable to most of the District’s residents. Bowser’s supporters, by and large, have economic and physical security. Very little development has been done in these areas for many decades. Bowser’s coalition is a true coalition of the bourgeoisie. Her administration exists to represent this group and their aims: redistributing wealth upwards, slashing regulation, and using the police to brutalize the poor in the name of protecting the city. 

2022 DC Democratic Mayoral Primary candidates support by percentage with a household income over $200K

Bowser’s performance in the 2018 primary presaged her current weakness in working class Black neighborhoods. Despite having no serious challengers, she saw very high levels of protest voting (25-45% depending on the precinct) in Wards 7 and 8. A poll this year found that 60% of white residents say the city is on the right track, while 54% of Black residents say the city is going in the wrong direction. It’s clear that Bowser’s administration has very low satisfaction levels among residents who are not white or upper-income. The policies her administration has pursued will continue to inspire opposition among the city’s working class. The critical question for any opposition will be how to unify the restless members of this class. 

Robert White, the Progressive Coalition, and the Changing DC

Robert White finished second in the election with a fairly strong 40% of the vote, winning Ward 1 and coming within 2% of winning in Wards 5 and 6. Robert White was strongest in the very dense, diverse, and young center of the city, places where the vast majority of the population take transit, bike, or walk to work, and where the population is very transient and economically precarious. Robert White’s coalition is largely in line with previous Districtwide progressive candidates from 2018 and 2020 but far stronger. While candidates like Ed Lazere and Jeremiah Lowery in 2018 and  Lazere and Mysiki Valentine in 2020 received the support of 15-35% of voters (along with other progressive candidates averaging about 25% of the vote), Robert White won over 40% of the vote. Other progressive candidates also saw a marked increase in support.

Robert White support level by precinct

The Robert White coalition is one that we have seen across the country in changing urban areas over the past six years. Headlined by the Bernie Sanders campaigns of 2016 and 2020 and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s win in 2018, we have seen an emerging democratic socialist coalition growing across the country, particularly in municipal and state legislative races. This coalition can be seen in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, and more. As the major political parties have depolarized around class and repolarized around cultural issues, class-based politics in elections have moved from contests between the parties to contests within the parties. While Robert White is far from a democratic socialist, he is one of several soft-progressive municipal politicians who have latched onto this growing coalition and championed left-wing economic policies.  

2022 DC Democratic Mayoral Primary candidate support by Racial Diversity Index

Most major cities now have a highly ideological and consistent voting bloc: young age, living in dense areas, racial diversity (and in particular concentrations of Hispanic voters), renting rather than owning a home, and use of public transit (or biking or walking to work), among other socio-economic factors. This is a significant development for a few reasons. First: American primaries, especially Democratic primaries and especially in urban areas, have typically avoided overt ideological polarization, with candidates usually assembling coalitions built around individual personality. Second: The consistency across cities shows that this coalition can be the foundation of a national political force over time. Lastly: urban Democratic politics has tended to be polarized by race. While the emerging progressive coalition has racial strength (particularly with Hispanic voters) and weakness (particularly with Black voters), it has been marked far more by age and class. This coalition has been characterized in DC and other cities as a coalition of gentrifiers, though it may be more appropriate to say that this  coalition was created and is driven by gentrification.

The progressive coalition in DC is strongest in areas going through gentrification, and the coalition broadly represents what we can call “changing DC.” The process of gentrification, however, is not driven by culture or race: It’s a process of class struggle. Looking at the election results for progressive candidates in DC, the most notable conclusion is that gentrification significantly increases support for progressive candidates across all other factors. Progressive candidates do markedly better in areas heavily affected by gentrification among voters of all ages, races, and education levels. Even if progressive candidates won every single white voter under 40, progressive candidates still do significantly better with the remaining voters than demographically similar voters in non-gentrifying areas. Why is this? Conventional wisdom sees gentrification as a conflict between gentrifiers and their victims: longtime working class residents of color. The truth is that gentrification is a conflict between working-class tenants and homeowners on one side and the landed rent-seeking class on the other. The 2022 DC primary election results reflect the fact that the gentrification-affected working class is aware of its position in this class struggle and has adjusted its political behavior as a result.

Gentrification is a process that creates precarity for all involved. Once a neighborhood is fully gentrified, both longtime residents and transplants who moved into the area for affordable housing near jobs cannot remain. This economic precarity makes class issues, particularly housing, incredibly salient for all residents of gentrifying neighborhoods. Longtime residents and gentrifiers alike need policies like rent control, strong tenant protections, construction of new affordable housing (and protection for existing affordable housing stock), and improved public transit, as well as redistributive policies that protect workers such as increases to the minimum wage, paid family and sick leave, and universal health care. As the process of gentrification removes the facade and showcases the reality of class struggle for all involved, the affected working class mobilizes around these class struggle issues and votes for candidates with this program. For all residents of “changing DC,” the enemy is landlords and the capitalist class more broadly, and the solution is left-wing policies.

2022 DC Democratic Mayoral Primary correlation between mayoral results and other candidate results (results with a very strong relationship with Robert White support)

It’s crucial to note that the progressive coalition in DC is a real, politically self-conscious voting bloc. While candidates not endorsed by the progressive coalition tend to have personalist blocs that are only slightly related to similar candidates, progressive candidates tend to have nearly identical coalitions and achieve very similar results in each precinct in each election. Muriel Bowser’s 2022 results only have a very strong positive statistical relationship with two other campaigns, one of which is her own 2018 primary results. Trayon White’s results have a very strong positive relationship with five other campaigns: three separate campaigns by Anita Bonds and one referendum. Robert White’s, however, have a very strong relationship with 10 previous candidate campaigns and with the average results of both DSA and overall progressive-endorsed campaigns from 2016-2020. This coalition even holds looking at the percentage of DC Democrats who protest voted for Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 Presidential Primary, months after both dropped out (Sanders doing relatively better with working class Black voters and Warren in whiter progressive precincts). You could predict the 2022 results of any progressive candidate in a given precinct with a very high degree of accuracy from the results of previous progressive candidates or other 2022 progressive candidates. 

The importance of rallying this coalition can be observed by comparing Robert White performance. His performance hews far closer to the results of his progressive competitor Ed Lazere in 2020 and other progressive candidates than they do to his own 2020 results as the partisan candidate. After three primary and two general election cycles, it's clear now that there is a base of District voters who will vote for the progressive candidate in any election. This coalition remains a minority of voters outside of Ward 1, but has grown in each cycle, and progressive candidates have a high floor from which progressives can launch their campaigns.

The progressive coalition in the District as a clear voting base is a product of organizations working together to create a coordinated movement. Progressive candidates in DC tend to have a huge overlap in donors, and the recent changes in campaign finance in DC have a lot to do with the recent surge in support. DC’s new public financing program means that individual DC small-dollar donors have their contributions matched by the District at a 5-1 rate. This has dramatically changed the calculus for running electoral campaigns. It means candidates can raise large amounts of money from only individuals giving small amounts, and that  small-dollar candidates can be financially competitive with candidates who take massive donations. And it means organizations that don’t necessarily have a lot of money but do have members can marshal large numbers of people to give small amounts with big results. 

Progressive candidates have tended to lead their races in small-dollar individual donations from DC, which is now enough to run a serious, well-funded campaign. Since the District implemented the public financing program in 2020, progressives immediately became more competitive. Democratic Socialists Janeese Lewis George and Zachary Parker would have struggled to win their races and be financially competitive without the program. Losing Districtwide progressive candidates like Robert White, Erin Palmer, and Ed Lazere ran vastly more competitive races than progressives in 2018 and before, largely due to their ability to contact hundreds of thousands of voters across the District, an expensive proposition. While the emerging progressive coalition is primarily the result of broad social forces and neoliberal policies in the District and across the country, these forces were harnessed by organization. This organization includes organized money, and you could not tell the story of DC’s changing politics without highlighting the importance of public financing.

While Robert White’s results (and those of other progressive candidates) were highly correlated with the existing progressive voting base of 2018 and 2020, there were some major underlying changes that are extremely important to understanding the new polarization in DC politics. The trends in 2022 show a furthering of what we had already been seeing: DC depolarizing around race and repolarizing around class. The overall trend is clear and is especially well represented in the Council Chair race because of the apples-to-apples one-on-one comparison with 2018 (which will be analyzed in a future piece). Overall, Robert White and 2022 progressives saw gains nearly everywhere in the District – but gains were especially concentrated in younger, more diverse, more working class precincts. The 2022 progressive voting base was more in line with existing demographic trends than previous progressive campaigns; it also accelerated these trends.

Robert White made gains where progressives had underachieved in the past, but his results also capped out in places where progressives had historically overachieved. Essentially: Political culture and history became less salient, and class characteristics became more salient. Modeling the average results of previous progressive candidates based on demographics (age, race, income, education, renter/homeowner) showed that progressives overachieved in some neighborhoods with a history of progressive organization (especially in Mt. Pleasant but also in Brookland and Takoma) and underachieved in some young, diverse, renter-heavy areas like NoMa. Based on the demographics, you would have expected the precinct in NoMa to be the most progressive in the District in past elections, and the precincts in Mt. Pleasant to be strong for progressives – but not among the strongest. Instead, the NoMa precincts were barely above average for progressives in 2018 and 2020, while the two Mt. Pleasant precincts were the strongest for every candidate from 2016 through 2020 in both the primary and general elections. 

That changed dramatically in 2022, as the voting patterns fell in line with demographics. NoMa became the strongest precinct in the District for Robert White, Erin Palmer, and Lisa Gore, while the Mt. Pleasant precincts fell from the top two to the mid-teens, in line with demographic expectations. Simply put, progressives have capped out support in their traditional neighborhoods – like Mt. Pleasant, Brookland, and Takoma – as class has become more salient and race less so. Based on the results of previous progressive candidates, you would expect a progressive like Robert White, who got 40% of the overall vote, to win over 60% in Mt. Pleasant. Instead, he won 52%, barely above Ed Lazere’s performance in 2018, even though this race was over 25 points closer. Robert White and Palmer also trailed Lazere’s 2018 performance in many of DC’s wealthiest and whitest precincts west of Rock Creek. As DC repolarizes around class, white, upper-income, homeowning voters who voted for progressive candidates have changed their voting patterns in line with their class interests.

Robert White’s gains mark a considerable opportunity for progressives going forward. He (along with Erin Palmer and other progressive candidates down ballot) did significantly better with working class voters of color than previous progressive candidates. Robert White’s coalition was far younger, Blacker, lower income, less educated, less likely to own a home, less likely to own a business, less likely to work in management, and more likely to live in a neighborhood that is very diverse. This is good news for the Left; it shows real progress in assembling a multiracial working class coalition to govern the District. Winning over a clear majority of working class voters and breaking down the barrier that has kept Black workers from supporting progressive politicians is the most essential task for the movement.

Above: 2022 Robert White results: correlation with select demographic variables, conditioned on average progressive vote share 2016-2020. Positive values indicate demographics Robert White relatively improved on previous progressives. 

While Robert White and the progressive movement in DC demonstrated far more strength than in the past, the fact is that progressive candidates lost all of the Districtwide races and have an enormous amount of work to do to begin winning these contests and controlling the District government. 

The first apparent problem with the progressive coalition as it stands is that it is unable to win by large margins anywhere. Robert White could only clear 60% in one precinct and Erin Palmer in two, while Bowser did in 22 precincts (all west of Rock Creek) and Mendelson did in 37. Beyond that, those strongly conservative precincts have the highest turnout. Bowser was able to net at least 200 votes in 19 precincts, over 300 in 13, over 400 in seven, and over 500 in three. By contrast, Robert White netted over 200 votes in just five precincts and did not net over 300 in any. Right now, even if progressives win across most of the city, they are not strong enough to dominate any given area. At the same time, conservatives can rack up huge margins in their strongholds. 

A winning progressive coalition needs to be able to juice turnout and margins in progressive areas. An excellent example is Janeese Lewis George’s 2020 victory in Ward 4, where she racked up enormous margins in the traditionally progressive areas in Petworth and the south of the ward. Lewis George is also a model for future progressive campaigns in what has been the biggest challenge for progressives in DC and in most of the country: winning over working class Black voters.

While progressive candidates up and down the ballot were able to make real gains with Black working class voters in 2022, progressives still need to win majorities east of the Anacostia River, in DC’s most heavily working class neighborhoods. Improving among working class Black voters is necessary both for progressives to win a governing majority across the District and for this majority to be tied to the existing working class. It’s impossible to create a progressive working class majority coalition without winning most working-class Black voters. White voters are no longer more likely to vote for progressives than non-white voters of the same age, income, education, and homeownership status, and progressive candidates won several Black-majority precincts in areas affected by gentrification. However, the results clearly indicate that Black voters are still less likely to vote for progressives than other voters of the same age, income, education, and homeownership status. This is true across the District, but it is even more true in nearly all Black neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. This is left-behind DC, the DC where Trayon White won a large share of voters.

Trayon White and Left-Behind DC

Trayon White finished in a deep third place, with just under 9% of the vote. Trayon White did not win any wards but came in a close second place in Ward 8, which he represents on the Council and which is the District’s poorest and blackest ward. He was uncompetitive nearly everywhere west of the Anacostia, finishing third place or worse in every precinct. While he was not a serious threat to win the election, Trayon White represents a voter bloc vital to understanding the state of politics in DC, one which anyone attempting to build a multiracial working class coalition must seriously understand and organize. Trayon White represents a DC that is neither prosperous and secure with the status quo nor rapidly changing and growing. Trayon White’s strength is in a DC that has been left behind by the system, decimated by neoliberalism, and has lost political power since the end of Marion Barry’s Districtwide machine. Trayon White’s voters are alienated from electoral politics in the District, almost entirely working class, and strongly support a radical redistributive economic agenda. 

Trayon White support level by precinct

The first thing to note is that Trayon White voters are extremely alienated from electoral politics in the District and its current coalitions. Both Bowser’s DC and the changing DC that provides the base for progressive candidates are alien to voters in the parts of the District that have been left behind. For many who voted for Trayon White, if the race were between Bowser and Robert White, they would have simply stayed home. Trayon White’s candidacy is important to examine because he mobilized large numbers of non-voters. Support for Trayon White was highly correlated with an increase in raw votes from the 2018 primary. Many of White’s strongest precincts saw a threefold increase in votes from the 2018 primary. Nowhere else in the District saw turnout increases anything like Trayon White’s strongholds, and turnout increase is more closely related to Trayon White support than any other variable. Trayon White could not come close to winning the election, but he did something that may be more difficult: personally mobilizing large numbers of working class non-voters. 

2022 Trayon White support compared to increase in votes by precinct between the 2018 and 2022 primaries

While many view Trayon White’s coalition as a Black coalition, it is first and foremost a working-class coalition. Trayon White indeed received negligible support from non-Black voters across age and class, but among Black voters his support was almost completely class-based: Trayon White’s support was more strongly correlated with income than race. While Trayon White won many of DC’s poorest precincts, he received very low support among higher-income and higher-homeownership voters in Black-majority areas, even nearly 100% Black areas east of the Anacostia like Penn Branch and Hillcrest. Controlling for race, support for Trayon White was highly correlated with homeowner vs. renter status, followed by lower income and younger age. He did significantly better among low-income and non-college educated voters across race than with Black voters overall. Trayon White’s support was heavily concentrated among DC’s poorest voters: voters who are not at all a part of the major competitive electoral coalitions across DC politics.

2022 DC Democratic Mayoral Primary candidates support by support for 2018 Initiative 77

Trayon White’s support is also motivated by a redistributive, class-based agenda. 2018’s Initiative 77, eliminating DC’s tipped minimum wage and effectively raising wages for DC’s tipped service workers, cut across racial lines and even across age. Support was almost entirely class-based. Trayon White’s support was very highly correlated with support for 77. This is ironic because Trayon White voted to repeal Initiative 77 over the wishes of the voters – yet, he is still seen by his base as a fierce fighter for the interests of the poor. Support for Initiative 77 serves in many ways as a proxy for broader support for class-based politics in DC. Support for Trayon White was associated with support for 77 across income, race, and age. 

2022 support for Trayon White correlated with 2018 support for Initiative 77, controlling for race, age, income, education, and homeowner/renter status

While both Trayon White and his coalition are very young, he is in many ways a throwback to an older era in DC politics. Like the original leaders of DC’s working class Black political machine, he brings out workers by relentlessly focusing on delivering tangible material benefits to working class voters. This is a base that any progressive coalition will need to mobilize around redistributive economic measures and pro-worker policy. A large group of workers with left-wing economic views is utterly alienated from Bowser and the political establishment in the District. It is clearly possible to mobilize these voters, as Trayon White demonstrated, and doing this is the paramount task of the Left in DC. 


From a socialist perspective, electoral politics is less a contest of individuals or ideas than of organized blocs with material interests. How a politician votes and how a place is governed is determined by the interests of the people and organizations backing them. For socialists, the task is less to evaluate individual candidates; we need to assemble a working class majority of voters around a redistributive agenda, and have that coalition elect a governing majority. DC is rapidly changing, and the 2022 primary elections demonstrate a real opportunity for a class-based majoritarian coalition.

While DSA rightly did not endorse in the mayoral contest – Robert White is not a socialist, and the organization’s capacity was best devoted to electing socialist candidates accountable to DSA – the organization does form the socialist pole within DC’s ascendant progressive coalition. Beyond the merits of individual candidates, creating a class-based majoritarian electoral coalition in the District is a prerequisite for mass socialist politics here. Metro DC DSA exists as the socialist pole within this broader progressive coalition: articulating clear demands, organizing tenants and workers in the non-electoral sphere, and serving as the shock troops for member-candidates who will anchor the left-wing in office. The 2022 primary shows the growing salience of class as an issue and an increasingly muscular progressive left. Progressives and socialists have real opportunities and challenges as we strive to govern  DC and advance an organized, working class politics capable of challenging capital. 

This look at the history of DC electoral politics and the 2022 Mayoral election is the first in a series examining the election results from a socialist perspective. Future installments will look at the Council Chair race and Erin Palmer's success in winning over new voters east of the Anacostia, the Ward 5 race and DSA’s success in increasing turnout through voter contact, and the progressive victories in Wards 1 and 3.


Note 1: A brief note on the data: this piece uses wherever possible data directly from the voter file, with the numbers being active registered Democrats who have voted since 2016. The DC voter file has some gaps in the data, such as missing age for a large percentage of voters. Where voter file data was not available, American Community Survey 2020 Citizen Voting Age population data was used. The voter file was used because DC’s actual electorate looks very different from the census data. The actual voting population is much older, for example than the overall population. Areas with a total population of 30-40% Latino, for example, even by CVAP, often have an actual electorate that is more like 10-15%. The overall electorate is whiter than the city itself. However, the Black population is overrepresented in some gentrifying precincts where much of the white population is very young and may still vote in other states. Overall, the data used was used to present the 2022 Democratic primary electorate as accurately as possible.

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