Moderates Actually Could Rule, New Study Shows
in a much-discussed and brilliant new analysis of U.S. political
polarization is this sad fact: The moderate near-majority of Americans
is left out of our political process.
scholars William Galston and Elaine Kamarck point out, self-identified
moderates have outnumbered conservatives and liberals consistently
for the past 30 years.
And yet liberals,
just 20 percent of the electorate, dominate the Democratic Party
while conservatives, at 33 percent, own the Republican Party.
The remaining, moderate 47 percent is forced to choose between
politics is more polarized than the people themselves," Galston
and Kamarck write in their paper, "The Politics of Polarization,"
and "the system of polarized parties does not provide a natural
home for the plurality of Americans who define themselves as moderates."
leaves them frustrated, unrepresented and alienated from political
life. ... Many Americans do not want to choose between individual
liberty and national security, between social tolerance and moral
tradition or between military strength and international cooperation,
and they resent a politics that forces them to do so."
be wonderful if moderates - and I'm one - could establish a third
party and seize power for the sensible center. Alas, given the
structure and history of our political system, it's not going
moderates can do is realize how big their numbers are, how powerful
they are in general elections - they decide them, in most cases
- and start exerting their influence in the primary system.
Kamarck write that "the polarization of the parties has created
an opportunity for a political leader - from the center-right
or the center-left - to capture the hearts and the votes of the
vast legion of moderate voters who are not comfortable calling
either party 'home.'"
is, such a political leader has to get nominated. The only way
for that to happen is for moderates not to sit on the sidelines
during the primary process and instead to fight for middle-of-the-road
in U.S. News and World Report, recently made
the case that 2008 may be the moderates' moment - that leading
contenders from both parties are cutting moderate profiles, including
such Republican candidates as Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Chuck
Hagel (Neb.) and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and such
Democrats as Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Evan Bayh
(Ind.) and Govs. Mark Warner (Va.) and Tom Vilsack (Iowa).
experience suggests that the primary process will force Democrats
to toe lines dictated by teachers unions, extreme feminists, doves
and civil rights groups, and that Republicans will have to hew
to the views of hard-line evangelicals, anti-taxers and anti-immigration
not to happen, moderate candidates in each party will have to
stick to their principles under pressure, and moderate voters
in each party will have to back them with energy, organization
Galston, in the report written for a new Democratic think tank,
Third Way, make a strong case that Democrats have more reason
to go to the center to win elections than Republicans do. That's
because of simple math. "The Republican party's conservative
activist base is 50 percent larger than the Democrats' liberal
base," they write. "That's been true for every election
dating back to 1976. When American politics turns into a shootout
between liberals and conservatives, conservatives almost always
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) actually carried 54 percent of the moderate
vote, but still lost the election. Democrats need at least 60
percent of that vote to win.
Kamarck convincingly argue that Democrats can't win simply by
mobilizing their base, by depending on Hispanics (who are increasingly
voting Republican) or by out-promising the GOP on domestic policy.
to be seen as strong on national defense and middle of the road
on cultural issues, which means genuinely respecting religious
values (not just quoting Bible verses), favoring civil unions
rather than gay marriage and, on abortion, favoring parental consent
and bans on partial-birth abortions.
It also means,
they say, nominating candidates who exude personal strength and
integrity and who can appeal to America's one remaining swing
region, the Midwest.
The GOP starts
out with a bigger base than Democrats, but Galston and Kamarck
demonstrate that President Bush won his popular majority in 2004
not simply by turning out more evangelicals, but by winning two
historical swing groups, Roman Catholics and married women.
line is that moderates actually decide elections, but they do
so passively, making a hard choice between two candidates chosen,
largely without their input, by the ideological extremes.What
moderates need to do is realize that they are crucial to both
parties' fortunes and begin exercising their power. If moderates
nominated and elected a president, he or she might actually win
in a landslide, come to office with a governing mandate and ease
the polarization that's poisoning politics.
Kondracke is the Executive Editor of Roll Call.