Is there a “block” of “centrist” voters who “move” one way or the other, to Democrats or Republicans, depending on whether a candidate takes positions that are “between” the positions of those on the “left” and “right?” This is the standard model followed by many Democratic pollsters, who advise their clients to take wishy-washy positions and avoid clear progressive positions. There is reason to believe this view is fundamentally wrong, and that the metaphor of the existence of a “centrist” is affecting and constraining our ability to understand what actually happens in the voting population.
Washington Post’s The Fix looks at a Pew poll of independent voters in The misunderstood independent,
In politics, it’s often tempting to put independents somewhere in the middle of Republicans and Democrats, politically. They identify somewhere in between the two, so they must be moderates, right?
A new study from the Pew Research Center suggests that’s not so true anymore. Independents, in fact, are a fast-growing and increasingly diverse group that both parties are going to need to study and understand in the years ahead.
. . . Pew identifies three different kinds of independents. Libertarians and Disaffecteds are 21 percent of registered voters and lean towards Republicans; Post-Moderns are 14 percent and lean towards Democrats.
A look at their views on issues shows those three groups can often be among the most extreme on a given topic.
Disaffecteds, for example, believe in helping the needy more than most Democrats. Libertarians side with business more than even the solidly Republican Staunch Conservatives. And Post-Moderns accept homosexuality more than most Democrats. The three independents groups are also less religious, on the whole, than either Republicans or most Democrats.
In the post I wrote last year, The Elusive “Swing” Vote, I wrote about this idea of a “swing” voter, (note I should have written “few” voters switch instead of flatly saying none),
Have you heard of the “Moveable Middle?” This is the idea that there are voters on the left who will always vote on the left, and voters on the right, who will always vote on the right, and then there are voters between them who switch back and forth. They are called “swing voters.”
So the idea in politics is that in order to win elections you have to take positions that appeal to these voters, and they will “switch” and vote for you instead of for the other side. This is a fundamental mistake.
Here is what is very important to understand about the “swing” vote: No voters “switch.” That is the wrong lesson. There are not voters who “swing” there are left voters and right voters in this middle segment who either show up and vote or do not show up and vote, and this causes this “swing” segment to swing.
The lesson to learn: You have to deliver for YOUR part of that swing segment or they don’t show up and vote for you. That is what makes the segment “swing.”
That post looked at polling by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee that reached conclusions similar to this more recent Pew polling.
So I’ve been saying that Dem pollsters are using the wrong model of what an independent voter is, telling the politicians that there is a “block” of independents who will vote one way or the other depending on what they hear. With this model they have to “move to the center” always staying in “between” the position of liberals and the far right, hoping to “attract” these voters away from the other side. They describe a single “center” or “independent voter” who will vote one way or another depending on whether they thing a candidate is “in between” the two poles, even when those poles have been moved very far to the right.
The problem here is the effect the metaphor of a “center” has on our thinking. Thinking about independent voters as being a “block” that is “between” the parties is the problem. It forces the brain into a constraint because of the visual image that it evokes. What I mean is that the actual language of “centrist” changes how we think. The metaphor makes us think they are “between” something called left and right. And as a result it forces certain conclusions.
The PCCC and now the Pew poll show us that these “independent” voters are NOT some group that sits between the positions of the parties. They are not a block and they are not between. Democrats and especially their pollsters think of them as a block that is between, and this is why the do what they do.
Karl Rove believed that there were independents who were not registered Republican because the party was not far enough to the right for them, who would only turn out if the party gave them something to vote for. I think Karl Rove’s model is more accurate, that the independent voters are a number of groups, and very large numbers of them are MORE to the left or right than the parties, and don’t vote unless the parties appeal enough to them.
Rove decided this means the Republicans need to move ever more to the right, and this will cause those “independent” voters who had changed their affiliation out of disgust with the centrism of their party to now turn out and vote.
I think Rove nailed it. the PCCC had a poll a while back that showed this, and now see below. Dems have it exactly wrong, what they are doing turns off those independents who might have turned out to vote for them.
The way to grow your voting base is NOT to try to “appeal” to some group that is not left or right, but is “between” something called left and right. To get more voters — especially the “independent” ones who won’t identify with a party — is to take stands, be more committed to progressive positions, and to articulate them more clearly.
This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
Dave Johnson (Redwood City, CA) is a Fellow at Campaign for America's Future, writing about American manufacturing, trade and economic/industrial policy. He is also a Senior Fellow with Renew California. Dave has more than 20 years of technology industry experience including positions as CEO and VP of marketing. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. And he was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.
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