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The RS Politics 2020 Democratic Primary Policy Guide

Where nearly two dozen candidates stand on health care, the climate crisis, closing the wealth gap, and more

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Matthew Putney/AP/Shutterstock; Paul Sancya/AP/Shutterstock; Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

The collection of Democrats vying to win the party’s nomination to take on President Trump in 2020 is larger and more diverse than any group of White House hopefuls since the modern primary process began. The field of two dozen candidates includes seven senators, three members of the House of Representatives, three mayors, two governors, a handful of former lawmakers, a former vice president, a former tech executive, a self-help guru, six women, six people of color, and a 37-year-old trying to become America’s first LGBTQ president.

Just as diverse are the candidates’ prescriptions for how to cure the United States of its worsening case of Trumpism. The more progressive wing of the party, led by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, is calling for a single-payer health care system while pushing for higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Moderate Democrats, led by current frontrunner Joe Biden, prefer a more tempered stance focused on formulating bipartisan solutions they argue are more practical. Others, like former tech executive Andrew Yang, who has called for a “Freedom Dividend” that would give every American $1,000 per month, and self-help guru Marianne Williamson, who wants to establish a Department of Peace, are hoping Democratic voters are willing to embrace a more outside-the-box approach.

Below is a guide to where nearly two dozen declared candidates stand on a variety of crucial issues. Scroll through at your convenience or click a candidate’s name to jump directly to their policy positions. For a look at where the candidates stand in the marathon horse race to secure the party’s nomination, check out the RS Politics 2020 Democratic Primary Leaderboard. Both guides will be updated as the primary progresses and candidates continue to develop policy positions.


Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., arrives to speak at George Washington University in Washington, on his policy of democratic socialism, the economic philosophy that has guided his political careerElection 2020 Bernie Sanders, Washington, USA - 12 Jun 2019

Bernie Sanders


Sanders is the author of Medicare-for-All legislation in the Senate. His bill would transform Medicare into cradle-to-grave insurance coverage for all American residents, financed by taxes, so there would be no fees at doctors offices, emergency rooms, or hospitals. Over a decade, the government would need to fund and administer a $32 trillion program, but studies have suggested overall U.S. spending on health care could drop, even as tens of millions gain coverage. “Here is the truth that the drug and insurance companies do not want you to know,” Sanders tweeted in May. “Expanding Medicare to everyone will save the American people money.”

Closing the Wealth Gap

When Sanders, the democratic socialist, preaches “revolution,” he is talking about wresting power and wealth from the billionaire class to create security and opportunity for working people and “an economy that works for all.” Sanders is targeting the wealth of America’s oligarchs, and has proposed hiking the estate tax to 77 percent on the fortunes of the very wealthiest, aiming to raise “$2.2 trillion from the nation’s 588 billionaires,” including $74 billion from the Koch brothers alone. “If the Koch brothers and the billionaire class hate my guts, I welcome their hatred,” Sanders has long said. It’s a line he cribbed from FDR, from whom he has also taken the idea of an Economic Bill of Rights, calling for, among other things, the government to guarantee a “decent-paying job” to everyone who can work. “A job guarantee will lower the crime rate, improve mental health, and create a stronger sense of community,” Sanders has said. “It will create a much healthier and happier America.” He’s also been a longtime proponent of raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour (a “starvation wage”) to $15 per hour, insisting: “It is not a radical idea to say a job should lift you out of poverty, not keep you in it.”  

The Climate Crisis

Sanders’ campaign has not released a detailed climate policy, but he was a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal resolution released by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey — an ambitious, comprehensive approach to the climate crisis that encompasses not just getting to net-zero carbon emissions but investing in job creation, infrastructure and protecting the frontline communities hardest hit by climate change. Sanders also appeared at a Green New Deal rally at Howard University in May. “Climate change is not a hoax but is an existential threat to our country and the entire planet,” he has said, “and we intend to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy and, in the process, create millions of good paying jobs.”

Foreign Policy

Sanders’ rhetoric on foreign policy has often mirrored his domestic priorities, condemning the power of corporate multinationals and oligarchic concentrations of wealth. His record leans toward an anti-interventionist stance — he voted against the Iraq war and more recently did not support ousting Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro, citing the U.S’s “long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin-American countries,” adding, “we must not go down that road again.” Sanders has called for Congress to reclaim its power to declare war and in April invoked the War Powers Resolution to cut off U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. “We’re not going to invest in never-ending wars,” he has said.

During a July interview with Pod Save America, Sanders offered sharp criticisms of Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu, and said that he would “absolutely” considering cutting American aid to Israel in order to force the nation to behave differently. “You have an extreme right-wing government with many racist tendencies,” he said of the nation under Netanyahu, adding that “our policy cannot just be pro-Israel, pro-Israel, pro-Israel; it has got to be pro-region working with all of the people, all of the countries in that area.”


Sanders has been slow to evolve on gun control. He voted for the NRA-backed 2005 bill that made most gun makers immune from accountability for misuse of their weapons, sparking the reckless marketing of military-style weapons. During his 2016 campaign, Sanders cited his concern for mom-and-pop gun shops to justify his vote. In his announcement speech for his 2020 run, Sanders sounded more like a conventional progressive: “I’m running for president because we must end the epidemic of gun violence in this country,” he said. “We need to take on the NRA, expand background checks, end the gun-show loophole, and ban the sale and distribution of assault weapons.”

Free College

Sanders pushed the call for free college to the fore in his 2016 campaign, and continues to champion the policy in 2020. He has called for free public college tuition, with the federal government covering 67 percent of this cost and states the remaining 33 percent. His plan seeks to “fully fund” historically black colleges and universities — financed by a transaction fee for Wall Street trades on stocks, bonds, and derivatives. Sanders is proposing to use the same Wall Street tax to fund a debt jubilee, wiping out all $1.6 trillion in outstanding student loans. “If we could bail out Wall Street, we sure as hell can #CancelStudentDebt,” he tweeted after announcing his new debt relief legislation in June.

Legal Weed

Sanders supports the Marijuana Justice Act, which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it would no longer be federally prohibited and legality would be left up to the states. The act would also invest at least $500 million a year in communities hardest hit by the Drug War and withhold federal Department of Justice funding from states that enforce their own pot laws unequally. 

He ratcheted up his rhetoric on the issue during an appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience in August, saying that, if elected, he would use an executive order to remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I narcotics, which also includes heroin. “That is insane,” he told Rogan. “Heroin is a killer drug. You can argue the plusses and minuses of marijuana, but marijuana ain’t heroin. So we have to end that and that’s what I will do as president of the United States. I believe we can do that through executive order and I will do that.”

Abolishing the Electoral College

Sanders wants to “reexamine” the Electoral College. “It is hard to defend the current system in which one candidate receives 3 million votes less than his opponent, but still becomes president,” he said.

Packing the Supreme Court

Sanders has voiced support for reforming the Supreme Court — perhaps by rotating on new justices from the appellate courts — but he’s concerned that conservatives could retaliate if progressives pack the court. “My worry is that the next time the Republicans are in power they will do the same thing. So I think that is not the ultimate solution,” he said at the We The People summit.

Criminal Justice Reform

Sanders voted for the 1994 Crime Bill, placing him in company with Joe Biden. Today he wants to end the drug war, including by legalizing marijuana. Sanders also seeks to end cash bail, mandatory minimums, private prisons, and the death penalty.


Sanders, who is not given to fiscal conservatism, has balked at reparations for slavery, telling The View: “I think that right now our job is to address the crises facing the American people in our communities. And I think there are better ways to do that than just writing out a check.”

He elaborated on his position during a July appearance on “Black Coffee” with Marc Lamont Hill. “My preferred solution,” Sanders said, “is … focusing a very substantial amount of federal money on distressed communities in America, which in most cases, not all, will be African-American communities. That means paying attention and rebuilding schools; making sure the young people who are graduating high school are not falling through the cracks — that they have the job training or the ability to go to college; making sure there is decent housing and that the environment in those communities is adequate; and making sure everybody has health care.”

Family Care

In addition to calling for universal pre-K, Sanders wants universal child care. “In a society with our resources, it is unconscionable that we do not properly invest in our children from the very first stages of their lives,” he tweeted in February. “We need universal, publicly funded childcare.”

Reproductive Rights

Sanders has been on the record as staunchly pro-choice since 1972, when he was quoted in a Vermont newspaper saying: “It strikes me as incredible that politicians think that they have the right to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body.” He opposes the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal spending on most abortions, limiting access for women on Medicaid, in particular.

Voting Rights

Sanders seeks to re-enfranchise people with felony records, including those currently behind bars. He’d abolish Voter ID laws, “restore” the Voting Rights Act, create automatic voter registration at the federal level for all Americans over 18, and make Election Day a national holiday. “The