Are We Seeing the Start of a Global Centrist Revolution?
In the past week, we have witnessed the creation of new centrist coalitions in the United Kingdom and Israel -- and here in the U.S. in the state of Alaska. In each case, members of the legislative bodies left their current parties to form a new power bloc in the middle of the political spectrum.
In Alaska, one moderate legislator (pictured), by refusing to caucus with his own party, was able to lead the formation of a bipartisan, centrist coalition that will likely put the interests of Alaskans ahead of the interests of either party. In the U.K., 11 members of Parliament from the Conservative and Labour parties left those parties in protest of their leaders to begin a new, independent, centrist coalition. In Israel, the top two centrist candidates for prime minister just joined forces, creating a new party to challenge the increasingly conservative Bibi Netanyahu, who will seek a fourth term when Israeli elections are held in April.
In the U.S., frustration with our government is at an all-time high. A Gallup poll released Feb. 18 revealed that a record number of Americans believe that poor government leadership is the largest problem in the country today. This dim view of our politics is shared about equally by Republicans and Democrats.
Those of us in the middle have watched as both parties are being pulled to extremes. Ideas that were once thought of as too radical are now being welcomed into the mainstream, and party leadership celebrates candidates who unabashedly espouse these policies while vilifying anyone who disagrees.
More voters in the U.S. now identify as independent than either Democrat or Republican. Most members of this emergent plurality do not identify with either the extremely conservative or liberal ends of our political spectrum. One study calls this frustrated group the “exhausted majority.”
They should be frustrated. Democratic and Republican Party leaders have taken turns altering the functioning of our democracy to benefit their extremes. They gerrymander voting districts, close primaries to independent voters, create undue hurdles for moderate independent candidates, alter the rules in Congress, and cater to the needs of the special interests funding their campaigns. After several weeks of a federal government shutdown this year, Americans realized that the two parties cannot work together well enough to fulfill the basic functions of government, let alone solve the most important challenges facing our country now and in the future.
The result is a government stuck in a constant tribal battle between the right wing of the Republican Party and the left wing of the Democratic Party. We in the middle are dramatically underrepresented. Many of us are disgusted. That disgust was a major motivation for my independent run for U.S. Senate in Maryland, to challenge the partisan games and dysfunction that crippled our government and society. Sadly, I found that many have become resigned to the poor performance of our government. One voter said to me, “Yes, our government is broken, it’s the way things are, and it cannot be changed.”
Yet, Americans are increasingly making their voices heard that they do want change, and are taking action to realize it. There have been resounding successes: ballot initiatives in November’s election, reform initiatives that passed in four states, campaign funding reforms that passed in three states and four major cities, gerrymandering reform that passed in four states, and, in perhaps the most impactful change, ranked-choice voting was adopted statewide in Maine.
Perhaps we are at a tipping point, and the activities in Alaska, the U.K., and Israel represent the start of a global rise of the middle. For the center to continue to rise we will need not only centrist legislative coalitions but also continued political reform and the election of moderate leaders who put the interests of our country above the interests of any political party.