Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Nothing in Moderation

Thomas B. Edsall, NYT
OCT. 28, 2014

What if the notion that a large segment of the electorate is made up of moderates who hunger for centrist compromise is illusory? What if ordinary voters are, in many respects, even more extreme in their views than members of Congress?

Two political science graduate students at Berkeley, David E. Broockman and Douglas J. Ahler, have made a persuasive case that not only are there few voters who are actually centrist or moderate, but that many voters – and on some issues, a majority of voters – are further to the left or right than the congressmen and legislators who represent them.

The Broockman-Ahler argument, if it’s correct, undermines advocacy organizations, think tanks and commissions premised on the belief that moderates remain a powerful but untapped source of support in federal elections. Such organizations include Third Way, a pro-Democratic think tank, which contends that “In the eleven most competitive Senate races of 2014, moderates hold the key to Democratic wins”; the Centrist Project, which asserts that “Most Americans Are Moderates”; the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget; the Bipartisan Policy Center; the Progressive Policy Institute; the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform; the Concord Coalition; No Labels; and the Campaign to Fix the Debt.

Political scientists have long debated how polarized ordinary voters are compared with political elites. In a paper completed earlier this month, “An Artificial Disconnect,” Broockman disputes in detail the work of scholars and activists who have sought to promote “an ambitious reform agenda” based on the “widely accepted empirical finding” that “voters reliably support more moderate policies than elites.” The mistake here, Broockman writes, is to “crucially rely on the assumption that voters’ preferences can be summarized on one dimension.”

(More here.)

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