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Poll: Most Voters Fall Into Broad Centrist Category

Poll: Most Voters Fall Into Broad Centrist Category

By Adam O'Neal - October 15, 2013

A new Esquire/NBC News poll suggests that "there is a large group of American voters -- even a majority -- who make up a New American Center.” According to Esquire's report on the survey, the conventional wisdom "that there is no middle ground between left and right, blue and red, us and them" in modern politics is wrong.

Fifty-five percent of those in the political center (as defined by Esquire and NBC News) self-identify as moderate, while 25 percent consider themselves conservative and 20 percent say they are liberal. However, their “views don't neatly correspond to traditional definitions of liberal or conservative,” the report says. In fact, the survey suggests that approximately 58 percent of registered voters are “up for grabs,” regardless of whether or not they identify as centrists.

Not surprisingly, this center swath represents a patchwork of ideological positions that can, depending on the issue, be heretical to either Democrats or Republicans -- or broadly popular throughout America.

For example, centrists support increasing taxes on those making more than $1 million a year (78 percent to 15 percent) while a plurality of 40 percent believe that “government spending is wasteful and inefficient.” Fifty percent support a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, but 45 percent support taxing carbon emissions.

On social issues, a plurality favors background checks for gun purchases, and 59 percent believe religion should play no role in politics.

Those in the center also overwhelmingly support increasing the minimum wage, funding welfare programs, and guaranteeing equal pay for equal work. However, they oppose government intrusion into the lives of citizens: 54 percent believe “government should not legislate how Americans can behave in their personal lives” with regards to “guns, abortion, marriage, and marijuana.” Paradoxically, though, 50 percent believe that we should be “careful” before we change the definition of marriage.

On foreign policy, 81 percent of centrists believe the U.S. cannot maintain its level of foreign aid spending without first addressing domestic concerns, and 76 percent say America should not be the world’s policeman. And yet, 62 percent think the U.S. will be at risk if it doesn’t maintain an economic and military edge over China.

Respondents were also highly pessimistic about the American political system. For instance, more than half believe that the Constitution can’t provide guidance for modern problems, and 49 percent have never put faith in politicians of either party and believe the two-party system is broken.

The survey also indicates that the new political center is overwhelmingly white -- 78 percent, just nine points less than the political right, and more than twice as white as the political left. The center supports affirmative action (57 percent to 19 percent) but opposes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants (54 percent to 32 percent). It also overwhelmingly supports voter I.D. laws.

The report concludes that there isn’t a strong consensus among centrists about whether Republicans or Democrats “get it wrong most of the time” but “more than one in three in the Center don’t feel like there is anybody in Washington expressing for them.”

“They are waiting to be found,” the report concluded.

The nationwide survey of 2,410 registered voters was conducted Aug. 5-11 by The Benenson Strategy Group and Public Opinion Strategies. 

Adam O'Neal is a political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at aoneal@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearAdam.

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