Tom Schaller has a fascinating take today on the evolution of the political center. To use his analogy, it’s evolved from a one-humped camel to a two-humped dromedary, statistically speaking.
The one thing media talking heads agree upon is that the center prevails. Turn on almost any of the nation’s political talk shows and pretty soon somebody will say how crucial it is for politicians to appeal to registered independents and self-described moderate voters.They conjure for us an image of the distribution of the American electorate as that of a dromedary’s single hump with a large, vital center of thoughtful citizens in the middle, flanked by a downward-sloping share of shrill, radical liberals on one side and grumbling, reactionary conservatives on the other.
In fact, the American electorate has for some time been bifurcating into two rather distinct camps, with fewer centrist voters. The true image is that of the two-humped camel.
On a panel at a Chicago convention of political scientists recently, Emory University’s Alan Abramowitz explained what’s happening.
“Independents made up 35 percent of the 2006 voters, more than either Democrats or Republicans,” Mr. Abramowitz said, based on his analysis of data from the 2006 Cooperative Congressional Election Study. “But most of these independent identifiers were not true swing voters – most of them leaned toward one party or the other, and these leaning independents voted overwhelmingly for their preferred party.”
Mr. Abramowitz added this key point: “Moreover, Democratic leaners were just as liberal as other Democrats, and Republican leaners were just as conservative as other Republicans.” (Story.)
This is an interesting posit, and I think Schaller is largely right. I’m probably a member of that leftmost hump, in fact, and much of what he says rings true from personal experience.
I can’t speak for others, but I’ve always felt like I was something of a “true moderate,” whatever that is, until the last few years. My views range far and wide enough that I never felt like I really mapped onto the conventional left/right model (the 2×2 Political Compass frame is a little better, at least). On average I guess that makes me a moderate.
Lately, though, I’m having to openly admit to a “leftward” lean. What’s frustrating is that if I am on that left hump it’s not because of my own proclivities – it’s more reactive. The GOP has put me on that hump.
So I’m not sure whether my case is the rule or the exception. I don’t think this is good news, though. For years the possible salvation of the center has been one of my fondest hopes. This suggests that the power-elite’s divide-and-conquer strategy has worked far better than I had feared.
I wonder what eight years of a really centrist government would do? Say there were a contemporary analogue to Howard Baker – would the humps re-merge?
Maybe. Just maybe….
:xposted Lullaby Pit: