What middle?

Steve Frank at California Political News brings up the point that the “middle” is a myth. You need principles to win. (By the way, I happen to think that is true in life as well as politics.)

Some are claiming that in order to win, you must develop support from the “growing” middle”. Read this report carefully, there is no significant “middle”….they are GOP’ers and Dems, just don’t like to say so publicly. Instead, many folks these days so hate their political party, they want to be “cool” and claim they belong to neither–when in reality they do.

This academic study should explode the theories of several California campaigns. Worse, if you refuse to believe this report, and try to campaigning “to the middle”, you will lose.

Important study for all to understand. Caution: if you destroy the brand name–by being pro-big government, pro-taxes, anti-jobs, you will lose big. An important element of this is that Republican turnout makes their numbers appear larger. If you depress GOP turnout, you lose. (or if you are the Democrats and create GOP oriented campaigns saying the GOP leadership is Democrat Lite, the GOP’ers will not come out to vote)

What do you think? How do you see the Schwarzenegger moves helping or harming his re-election and the election of the GOP ticket? Put your comments directly on this web site.

Frank is replying to an article by Jonathan Rauch in Reason:

Where the Missing Middle Went
Survey says: Maybe the dead center of American politics need not be
Jonathan Rauch

In 1992, the political scientist Raymond E. Wolfinger of the University of California (Berkeley), along with five of his students, published The Myth of the Independent Voter, a book that posed a challenge to—well, to people like me. For some time, I’ve been saying that the key to American politics is in the center. Independents make up about a third of the electorate, yet are neglected by the two increasingly extreme major parties. Whichever party manages to dominate the center without losing hold of its partisan base will be the majority party, possibly for years to come. Or so I’ve claimed.

One problem with my view is this: Party leaders aren’t idiots. Why would they neglect this vast independent center if it is up for grabs? Various answers suggest themselves (for example, primary elections are dominated by fierce partisans who prefer extreme candidates), but another answer is possible. Perhaps independents are not really up for grabs.

Wolfinger and his colleagues took a closer look at independents in presidential elections from 1952 to 1988, using data from the University of Michigan’s biennial American National Election Studies. Like many polls, the ANES survey asks respondents to identify themselves as Democrats, Republicans, or independents; but then it goes on to ask Republicans and Democrats whether their party identification is strong or not very strong, and to ask independents whether they think of themselves as closer to the Republicans or the Democrats. It thus shows seven degrees of partisanship, instead of the usual three groups.

Mining the ANES data, Wolfinger and company found that most people who identify themselves as independents are not uncommitted swing voters. Rather, “they are largely closet Democrats and Republicans.” Indeed, they vote much as weak partisans do. They may be independent identifiers, but they are mostly not independent voters.

Two polarizing presidents later, is that still true? With the help of Mark Hiller and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program (where I am a guest scholar), I took an updated look at the ANES data for presidential elections through 2004. The charts included here illustrate the findings.

The chart below shows how Americans have categorized their party ties since 1952. The deeper the color, the stronger the partisanship. Pure independents are the white band in the middle.

The first finding that pops out is the basic stability of the country’s partisan structure over more than five decades. The data show no major disruptions, though the triumphs of LBJ in 1964 and Ronald Reagan in 1984 are evident. The number of true independents has grown, but only to 10 percent of the electorate. They remain the smallest of factions.

Despite their party’s current gloom, Democrats (strong and weak) still outnumber Republicans (strong and weak) by 33 percent to 28 percent, as of 2004. And many weak Democrats have been replaced by independents who lean Democratic, so the blue universe—everyone who either identifies or leans Democratic—has shrunk less than it otherwise might have.

Republicans, however, have narrowed the gap. The red universe has expanded, mostly at the expense of weak Democrats. Moreover, Republicans, though outnumbered, punch above their weight. The reason is turnout. In the ANES surveys, Republicans report voting at higher rates than Democrats, and strong partisans report voting at higher rates than weak partisans—both tendencies that favor Republicans. The turnout rates for partisans and leaners have not changed much since the 1960s. But something that has changed—a lot—is the voting rate of true independents. Their turnout has plummeted by about 30 percentage points since the late 1950s.

Read more.

One thought on “What middle?

  1. Really interesting stuff, Gary. Thanks for posting. And welcome back. You’ve been missed.Hope you signed a $100MM dollar deal, or something great like that while you’ve been gone.Howard


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