With the 2020 election behind us, it is time to plan for the future.

President Joe Biden received the most votes of any presidential candidate ever. Yet Democrats barely have a Senate majority and saw their House majority shrink.

There are millions more people ready and willing to vote for Democrats than Republicans. But gerrymandering, clustering, and the anti-democratic aspects of our political system keep their voice from being fully heard. How do we change that?

This report articulates how Democrats can build a stronger future for the Party by focusing on the true geography of power – the states. Essential to a stronger future for the Democratic Party is a strategy that is fundamentally informed by, and based on, the conditions in the states.

In this report, we detail the levers of power in this country and how they are intertwined with control of the states.

We examine the states that will be critical for future Democratic majorities in the Senate and what that means for the courts. We look at how state power and the future of the House of Representatives are intertwined.

Finally, we look at how a progressive power and policy agenda can be advanced in blue, purple, and red states.

Realizing that true transformation of this country will take time, this report articulates a twenty-year plan for solidifying Democratic power. We end with EveryDistrict’s focused plan and our next steps to turn this vision into a reality.

Throughout this report, three themes emerge that explain what needs to be different about how Democrats approach the next twenty years:

Working All the Levers: Democrats need to do a better job identifying the range of opportunities for democratic reform, policy control, and political power. We then need to make the investments to achieve these goals strategically and pragmatically.

Understanding the Electorate: The electorate in the states and districts Democrats need to win to take power at all levels looks very different from the national electorate. We have to be clear about who we have to win and how we can grow our margins among those voters.

Creating a Pro-Democratic Narrative: In an age of polarization, Democrats will struggle to compete broadly down ballot without stronger local and national media voices. As local media has died, national Republican-dominated media and social media channels further fuel polarization top-to-bottom.

As we think about how we beat back Republican power moving forward, it is important to recognize where we stand. Two moments, one recent, and one now over a decade old, are stark reminders of the breadth of Republican power. 

Just before Election Day 2020, Republicans pushed the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett through the Senate. Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court is both a stunning show of hypocrisy and a long-lasting rightward turn for one of the most powerful American institutions.

With the right legal challenges on the docket, the majority conservative jurists could strike down the Affordable Care Act, overrule Roe v. Wade, and dismantle US climate protections. The sustained expansion of right-wing jurisprudence has been supported by a series of practical and long-term tactics for consolidating conservative power despite a shrinking voter base.

Republicans have made significant investments in strong state-level parties that provide continuous support for candidates up and down the ballot. The collective right-wing media – headed by national talk radio pundits and relentless propaganda from Fox News – creates a consistent messaging advantage for Republicans, worsened by the erosion of local media and the rise of disinformation on social media.

This network of power is a reminder that effective Democratic power building needs to be comprehensive and multifaceted. There is no “one simple trick.” But the need is urgent – the Republican effort to overturn the 2020 election results is the latest example of how Republicans seek to use their power for anti-democratic ends, with dire consequences.

The second moment to recall is November, 2008. Twelve years ago, Democrats were in complete control of the country.

Bush-era mismanagement had brought on a disastrous war, the abandonment of an American city, and the collapse of the US economy. And yet, it would only take two years for the Republican brand to rehabilitate itself.

It orchestrated its return to power with a targeted and comprehensive state-based strategy beginning with winning the Virginia governorship in 2009. It solidified its power in the decade that followed by undermining democratic institutions through voter ID laws, gerrymandering, and other restrictions on voting rights.

With the relatively strong showing for Trump and House Republicans, if we don’t take the right steps now, a 2022 backlash could stand in the way of progress for the next two decades.

In addition to our two-decade plan, we outline a series of actions to minimize the potential losses in the next midterm and – with the right strategy – turn it into a historic Democratic victory.

The twenty-year project to rebuild the country begins with the next two.

All of this occurs with the backdrop of the events of January 5th and 6th. The double victory in Georgia gives Democrats greater opportunity to advance a power agenda, though with a tenuous majority.

Meanwhile, the attempted coup of the next day reinforces that the stakes for Democrats to create an enduring coalition are extremely high for both progressive policy and the country as a whole.

Structure of this Report

Part I: The Senate. State-based representation in the Senate threatens to seriously limit Democratic power over the next twenty years. We have modeled different election scenarios to identify the states and seats that will be critical between now and 2040.

With that information, we can begin investing in the communities and demographics to build an enduring Senate majority and prevent the likelier scenario: a deep partisan hole in the Senate over the next twenty years.

Part II: The Courts. With the Supreme Court at its head, the American Judiciary is a partisan battlefield for the future direction of the country. That direction is tied to control of the Senate and the states.

We have modeled future partisan control of the Senate and what it means for control of the courts.

We also examine where Democrats can reshape state-level courts. To reverse the long-term trajectory of Republican control, we will need to refine our approach to confirming left-leaning judges to state and federal courts and to investing in state-level judicial elections.

Once we are able to reclaim a larger Senate majority, we will need to ensure the size of the federal judiciary grows to meet the population of the country.

Part III: The House. Continued control of the House of Representatives depends upon a dynamic strategy to grow and retain Democratic support in suburban communities and a hard-nosed approach to redistricting. Over the next few months, Democrats will need to take meaningful steps to protect and preserve our House majority.

Part IV: Voting Rights Action and Policy Progress in the Blue States. Defending our democracy begins in the places where Democrats already hold power.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has led to some electoral reform, democratic norms around ease of voting and who is able to vote need to be further expanded.

In communities where Democrats have legislative control, we should work to build more effective, progressive governments that show what is possible when Democrats lead.

Part V: Winning the Purple State Legislatures. Since the “blue wave” failed to materialize in state legislative races in 2020, there are critical and winnable districts still on the table. Smarter investments in the key geographies to win state legislatures are needed.

These investments will determine whether we are able to combat partisan gerrymandering and build a nationwide legislative coalition that can deliver progressive reform for more people.

Part VI: Advancing Policy in the Red States. Even in states where Democrats don’t have the legislature within reach, policymaking can be on the agenda through ballot initiatives and referenda.

While issues like legalizing marijuana, expanding Medicaid, and increasing the minimum wage have been successful in some states, more can be done to tie progressive policy to political change in the most challenging states.

Part VII: Isn’t this the Plan? What Needs to Change. Why aren’t Democrats doing this already? Or if they are, why isn’t it working? In this section, we break down the institutional barriers to change and how to overcome them.

Part VIII: Getting Started. The 2022 Project. The long-term dynamics of politics suggest that Democrats are poised to see major losses in 2022. We start with some modeling of the likely damage and how to overcome the headwinds.

We then articulate how Democratic governance and political reforms instituted now can create a coalition to withstand the shocks of a potential midterm slump.

Part IX: The Investments to Implement the Plan. Building the stepping stones to reclaim Democratic power will require formidable resources. We outline an approach for making targeted early investments in EveryDistrict’s program to build momentum for the years ahead.

How We’ll Handle the Media

Democrats have failed to take control of the viral and dangerous elements of new media – from the rise of the talk radio host to the algorithms of Facebook. Without a more advanced approach, Democrats will continue to fall behind the GOP.

We will also continue to see dangerous conspiracy theories, like QAnon, fester in our republic. Rather than taking a passive stance or working halfheartedly to mirror the Republican propaganda machine, we need to invest in real journalism and in forcing the large internet players to change the rules of the game.

Since others are more involved already in this work, it won’t be the focus of this report. But, we will explain how better marshaling the media will matter for state-level control.

A Note About Projecting the Future

Throughout this report, we outline modeling and projections about the next twenty years of political history.

Anyone who has lived through 2020 will tell you that it can be hard to model one year from now, not to mention twenty. While all forward-looking projections should be viewed cautiously, we have built a reasoned approach for projecting future trends based on the data and trends that we see before us today.

About EveryDistrict

EveryDistrict is a political organization that has worked since 2017 to elect Democratic state legislative candidates in twelve states across the country.

We have endorsed over 200 legislative campaigns and raised over $3 million in direct contributions for their races.

Our Win Number program helps state legislative candidates better understand and respond to the demographics of their districts. EveryDistrict’s website is home to the only interactive map to provide a competitiveness score for every single state legislative district across the country.

As the lines are redrawn over the next year, EveryDistrict will monitor the process to identify the best pickup opportunities in 2021, 2022, and beyond. Visit EveryDistrict.us to learn more.

About Win Number

EveryDistrict’s Win Number program was launched in 2020 to help state legislative candidates running in GOP-leaning districts engage and turn out a winning Democratic coalition by taking a demographic approach to understanding voter behavior.

In districts where Democrats are less than 50% of the electorate, the current data provided to legislative candidates makes it difficult for campaigns to figure out which voters would be most receptive to a pro-Democratic message.

The Win Number team provides supplemental data to campaigns to help them test, hone, and refine their message for the voters who will cast the deciding ballots.

Nicole Hobbs, EveryDistrict’s Executive Director, served as lead author. Sophie Futrovsky, Arianne Golub, Ted Netland, and Gary Tran contributed to this report.