Skip to comments.Moderate voters are a myth
Posted on 07/10/2014 5:55:32 AM PDT by Petrosius
There is no creature more revered in American politics than the moderate voter. Unlike the ideologues and partisans destroying politics, the moderate is free of cant and independent of party. She yearns for politicians who get along, who govern reasonably and incrementally, who steer a course between the extremes of the left and the right. The problem with Washington is that her pleas so often go unheard.
The only problem is moderates are largely a statistical myth
The only problem is moderates are largely a statistical myth and efforts to empower them may, accidentally, lead to the rise of more extreme candidates.
What happens, explains David Broockman, a political scientist at the University of California at Berkeley, is that surveys mistake people with diverse political opinions for people with moderate political opinions. The way it works is that a pollster will ask people for their position on a wide range of issues: marijuana legalization, the war in Iraq, universal health care, gay marriage, taxes, climate change, and so on. The answers will then be coded as to whether they're left or right. People who have a mix of answers on the left and the right average out to the middle and so they're labeled as moderate.
"These people look like moderates but they're actually quite extreme"
But when you drill down into those individual answers you find a lot of opinions that are well out of the political mainstream. "A lot of people say we should have a universal health-care system run by the state like the British," says Broockman. "A lot of people say we should deport all undocumented immigrants immediately with no due process. You'll often see really draconian measures towards gays and lesbians get 16 to 20 percent support. These people look like moderates but they're actually quite extreme."
The result is that voters who hold gentle opinions that are all on the left or the right end up looking a lot more extreme than voters who hold intense opinions that fall all over the political spectrum. Broockman offers this table as illustration:
Digging into a 134-issue survey, Broockman and coauthor Doug Ahler find that 70.1 percent of all respondents, and 71.3 percent of self-identified moderates, took at least one position outside the political mainstream. Moderates, in other words, are just as likely as anyone else to hold extreme positions: it's just that those positions don't all line up on the left or the right.
these voters don't want moderate candidates because these voters aren't actually moderates
For Ahler and Broockman, this solves a puzzle. They note that many states have implemented election reforms to wrest the process away from partisans and empower average voters to elect the moderate politicians they really want. These reforms include open primary elections, nonpartisan redistricting, and public funding of elections. But "the bulk of studies on these reforms finds little evidence that they improve moderate candidates' fortunes."
The answer, Ahler and Brookman realize, is simple: these voters don't want moderate candidates because these voters aren't actually moderates.
In a draft paper, they prove this through a battery of surveys and experiments testing whether people want a candidate who agrees with them on the issues or a candidate who is described as moderate. Unsurprisingly, they want the candidate who agrees with them on the issues. For that reason, Broockman says, "It's just not clear that empowering average voters will help moderate politicians win."
There's even reason to believe "average voters" which is to say, less politically engaged voters hold more extreme opinions: engaged Democrats and Republicans tend to adopt the positions held by their parties, and parties tend to adopt positions that are popular, achievable and workable. So voters who follow their parties end up pushing ideas in the political mainstream. Voters who aren't as interested in politics and who don't attach themselves to a party push the ideas they actually like, irrespective of whether they're popular or could attract 60 votes in the Senate or would be laughed at by policy experts.
The other problem is that the term "moderate" makes it sound like there's one kind of moderate which is where the idea emerges that there's some silent moderate majority out there waiting for their chance to take back politics. But someone who believes in punitively taxing the rich and criminalizing homosexuality is not going to form a coalition with someone who believes in low taxes and gay marriage, even though both of these voters would look moderate on a survey.
The deeper point here is that the idea of the moderate middle is bullshit
The deeper point here is that the idea of the moderate middle is bullshit: it's a rhetorical device meant to marginalize some policy positions at the expense of others. There's no actual way to measure it, or consistent definition animating it, and it doesn't spontaneously emerge in any of the data.
In one of their paper's most interesting sections, Ahler and Broockman look at the results of a survey that gave people seven policy options that ranged from extremely liberal to extremely conservative on 12 different issues.
"On only two of the 13 issues environmental/energy policy and gay rights is the truly centrist response the modal preference," they write. "This equals the number of issues on which the modal preference is one of the outside-the-mainstream policies."
On marijuana, the single most popular positions was full legalization. On immigration, it was "the immediate roundup and deportation of all undocumented immigrants and an outright moratorium on all immigration until the border is proven secure." So are these positions really the moderate ones? Or is the moderate position discovered through some process of averaging out the poll results? Or is the moderate position just the one espoused by people in power because, after all, that's where a lot of survey respondents are taking their cues from.
"When we say moderate what we really mean is what corporations want"
"When we say moderate what we really mean is what corporations want," Broockman says. "Within both parties there is this tension between what the politicians who get more corporate money and tend to be part of the establishment want that's what we tend to call moderate versus what the Tea Party and more liberal members want."
That's the problem with using a term that doesn't describe either an identifiable group of voters or a clearly defined ideology to describe policies. "Moderate" is simultaneously one of the most powerful and least meaningful descriptions in politics and it's become little more than a tool the establishment uses to set limits on the range of acceptable debate. It's time to get rid of it.
“... surveys mistake people with diverse political opinions for people with moderate political opinions.”
There are NO such thing as moderate’s AND there are NO such thing as ‘independent’s’.
With all the rabidly toxic rhetoric going on and with two consecutive national elections demonstrating the extreme polarity of the US voters, HOW on earth can anyone maintain that ‘independents’ OR moderates exist?
My brother works in Philly, and his co-workers are pro-life, pro-gun and pro-death penalty, but all vote democrat.
I think making them dance the Tyburn Jig is barbaric and backward.
“Moderates” are people who readily admit they don’t pay attention to what is going on.
Which means they are stupid. But...You left-out a couple of other pros. They are pro-union, pro-welfare, pro-tax the “other” guy. Money trumps principle 9 times out of 10.
It’s that old Bill Maher-type trick of continually claiming independence/libertarianism (or whatever) and then always marching in lockstep with the leftists. I guess the idea is that the sheep with say, “See, there’s ANOTHER independent who’s sided with the left on this one issue.” Except they do it for EVERY issue and no one seems to notice that they NEVER “independently” sway the other direction.
What is the moderate position on the percentage of dog crap that should go into ice cream?
I believe a lot of the swing voters are some of those who are gays and abortion, but are smart enough to know that Obama’s policies are hurting them in the wallet.
Your Philly phriends aren’t voting for the Democrat; they are voting against the Rich Republican Who Doesn’t Care About People Like Me. My father did it for 55 years, stopping when he died.
Are you sure about that?
If they’re determined to be illegal, what additional due process is required?
For some reason the old Loudon Wainwright III song
“Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” is now stuck
in my head.
Born and raised in Cook County, IL. Left in 1975 and I’d bet I’m still voting there.
I actually checked the voter roll to make sure, for him and my mother both; also made sure my son was removed from the rolls when he grew up and moved out of the state. Didn't want anyone else taking over their votes.
“My brother works in Philly, and his co-workers are pro-life, pro-gun and pro-death penalty, but all vote democrat.”
I am the same way, including pro-military, a TEA party supporter and haven’t voted for a rat in 30 years. Only thing is while I do not believe in gay marriage from the church, if gays want to have their civil unions at city hall and call it marriage, I couldn’t care less.
For that I am a liberal.
Because that is foundational, the end of marriage and family means the end of conservatism.
“Because that is foundational, the end of marriage and family means the end of conservatism.”
My father told me something many years ago which as a Jew I fully believe. “If you wanted to get rid of the Jews, just leave them alone.” Over the course of a few generations they will marry out of the faith, diluting each subsequent generation.” It’s when you create adversity for the Jew, they will band together and fight to the death as we are seeing.
Same would apply for gays. (I am not comparing gays to Jews) one thing gays cannot do is procreate. Being a small percentage of the population, and if we can win more Hobby Lobby type battles in the name of religious freedom, eventually homosexuality will play itself out. But the church must stay strong aagainst the government and protect its core beliefs.
That is just silly, homosexuality isn’t going to “disappear” but marriage and families will never be the same and polygamy will be here shortly.
Your gay marriage (and soon polygamy) means that it will be taught in the schools and treated as equal in all the media and culture that Americans consume.
The foundation of Western Civilization is destroyed, the rate of that becoming obvious will shock people in the next few years.
“That is just silly, homosexuality isnt going to disappear but marriage and families will never be the same and polygamy will be here shortly”
Yes it will. And here is why. Communist countries and countries whose laws are based on religion (outside of the US and western Europe) frown on homosexuality and kill people they catch practicing it. Iran is a good example. Russia jails them. China, no one knows and no one wants to find out.
Our culture is being taken over by two of the US lefts biggest allies, communism and Islamofascism. What do you think is going to happen the minute the US ones full leftist? They will have to purge their societies of the undesirables to show their commitment to the cause and for purity of the party.
Who are the first to go? In just about every religious and communist society it’s the sexual deviants, the drug addicts and the career criminals. What Obama may or may not realize and what the gays sure enough don’t realize is that the alligator is going to eat them first, not last.
As for the family unit. Teach your children the good book, our history, how to behave and how to live a clean and respectful lifestyle and no indoctrination is going to change them.
Conservatism, like the example the of Jews is if you create adversity for us, we may forgive, but we will never forget.