Thoughts on Schaller’s two-humped moderate political beast

Tom Schaller has a fascinating take today on the evolution of the political center. To use his analogy, it’s evolved from a one-humped camel to a two-humped dromedary, statistically speaking.

The one thing media talking heads agree upon is that the center prevails. Turn on almost any of the nation’s political talk shows and pretty soon somebody will say how crucial it is for politicians to appeal to registered independents and self-described moderate voters.They conjure for us an image of the distribution of the American electorate as that of a dromedary’s single hump with a large, vital center of thoughtful citizens in the middle, flanked by a downward-sloping share of shrill, radical liberals on one side and grumbling, reactionary conservatives on the other.

In fact, the American electorate has for some time been bifurcating into two rather distinct camps, with fewer centrist voters. The true image is that of the two-humped camel.

On a panel at a Chicago convention of political scientists recently, Emory University’s Alan Abramowitz explained what’s happening.

“Independents made up 35 percent of the 2006 voters, more than either Democrats or Republicans,” Mr. Abramowitz said, based on his analysis of data from the 2006 Cooperative Congressional Election Study. “But most of these independent identifiers were not true swing voters – most of them leaned toward one party or the other, and these leaning independents voted overwhelmingly for their preferred party.”

Mr. Abramowitz added this key point: “Moreover, Democratic leaners were just as liberal as other Democrats, and Republican leaners were just as conservative as other Republicans.” (Story.)

This is an interesting posit, and I think Schaller is largely right. I’m probably a member of that leftmost hump, in fact, and much of what he says rings true from personal experience.

I can’t speak for others, but I’ve always felt like I was something of a “true moderate,” whatever that is, until the last few years. My views range far and wide enough that I never felt like I really mapped onto the conventional left/right model (the 2×2 Political Compass frame is a little better, at least). On average I guess that makes me a moderate.

Lately, though, I’m having to openly admit to a “leftward” lean. What’s frustrating is that if I am on that left hump it’s not because of my own proclivities – it’s more reactive. The GOP has put me on that hump.

So I’m not sure whether my case is the rule or the exception. I don’t think this is good news, though. For years the possible salvation of the center has been one of my fondest hopes. This suggests that the power-elite’s divide-and-conquer strategy has worked far better than I had feared.

I wonder what eight years of a really centrist government would do? Say there were a contemporary analogue to Howard Baker – would the humps re-merge?

Maybe. Just maybe….

:xposted Lullaby Pit:

9 replies »

  1. I’m registered Dem, despite being so far left I’m out of party range. I’d belong to a smaller party if they had any clout. As it is, I’m voting in the Dem primaries to do my part in getting the most proressive candidates on the stage.

  2. I’d really like to see 8 years of LP government. That would rock my poor excuse for a fro.

  3. Interesting thoughts, Sam. I agree with you that the Political Compass idea is richer than the usual one-dimensional left-right model. And I’m with SilverSliver in wishing for a real left/libertarian party that would have enough clout to be worth voting for, as would exist if the US had a proportional-representation parliamentary system. But even then the Greens wouldn’t be it for me, I’m afraid (although global warming is the gravest danger facing us); with or without Ralph Nader, they tend to be preachers rather than politicians, and I’d like to see some real results.

    The Political Compass system is certainly an improvement, with its left-right economic axis and authoritarian-libertarian social axis, though it would be even better with a third dimension, perhaps measuring flexibility-rigidity. When I took the quiz, I ended up to the far lower left of the schema, more left than Ghandi and more libertarian than the Dalai Lama. I guess I would have been at home in a 1930s Catalonian syndicalist commune; that’s probably why I find Berkeley so congenial

  4. I took the quiz, too, and wound up close to Robert. I’d just like to say that I feel honored and lucky to be in such estimable company….

  5. When I take the quiz I’m in that quadrant, but not nearly so far out as you goddamned commie hippies. It troubles me, too – I find that I’m having to give answers that I don’t really want to give, but have to because I have to account for how the world really works. In principle I’m more libertarian, so slide me to the right, and I can get pretty conflicted on the social scale, too, when I see the irresponsibility that people exercise in pursuit of their freedoms.

    This is part of what gripes me when I see people who refuse to acknowledge that real life doesn’t always conform to their theories…

  6. Well, I’m delighted to be in the same quadrant as you guys too. (Wait, must find different language; that useful word guy has now been sullied by Bush’s pronouncement that he’s the “commander guy.”) Following Star Wars nomenclature, Brad DeLong refers to the territory of the wacko Repubs as the Gamma Quadrant. Perhaps we should claim the Alpha Quadrant.

    Sam, I shared your frustration with many of the questions. I wanted a different option than the available ones, sometimes more nuanced, sometimes more extreme. Finally just a game, though I find it curiously reassuring to be officially designated a goddamned commie hippie.

  7. I’ve taken the test several times over the past few years. I’m buried so deeply into the left/libertarian quandrant (and moving further left and down) I hardly recognize my rebellious collegiate ’60s self.

    I don’t now what “moderate” means. I know I register as an independent because I do not wish to formally align myself with either the Donkeys or the Pachyderms. If “moderate” means “independent,” then I’m moderate.

    But if “moderate” means “middle of the road” (whatever THAT means), I’m nothing approaching “moderate.”

    If “moderate” means “meek” or “modest” or “mild-mannered” in my attitude toward politics or current goverance, then the pollsters can kiss my ass.

    We need more dimensions to any political compass. What about “depth of involvement”? What about “degree of willingness to speak out”? What about “willingness to do the homework necessary to speak out effectively”?

    We don’t need a political compass. We need a compass that measures the willingness of the mind and soul to be independent, critical thinkers.

    Not voyeurs. Not sycophants. Not miscreants. Not morons.


  8. I agree 100% with the need for Thinkers…….on all sides of the political spectrum.