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Moderates Are Not Independents, and Other Clues to Moves by Obama, GOP

3 years ago
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If you want to understand why President Barack Obama and opposition Republicans are acting the way they are, a new study provides some clues. Bottom line: Democrats need huge numbers of moderates to win national elections, while Republicans can rely a lot more on their conservative base.

Moderates are "the true presidential kingmakers," political scientists William Galston and Elaine Kamarck write in their study for the centrist Democratic think tank, Third Way. Since 1980, the pair say, no Democrat has been elected president without winning at least 60 percent of the moderate vote, accounting for at least half their total vote.

Republicans can rely more on conservatives because there are more conservatives in the electorate – an average of 33 percent in the past 30 years, as opposed to 20 percent self-described liberals. Yet the biggest share of voters by far is the 47 percent who call themselves moderates.

Using years of data from Gallup, Pew and other polling outfits, Kamarck and Galston found that moderates are akin to liberals on issues such as abortion and gay rights. But as a group they are more skeptical about the size and reach of government and more likely to believe it is not the government's job to reduce the income gap between rich and poor. They are also much more likely than liberals to favor tax cuts over public investments as a way to strengthen the economy, and they are more interested than liberals in reducing the deficit.

One of the most interesting points the authors make is that moderates and independents, often lumped together, are quite different. Most independents – 75 percent – lean toward one party or the other, and overall, the group has a "conservative tilt," Galston and Kamarck found.

The ideology gap between moderates and independents is clear at the White House level. Moderates delivered more than half their votes to Democrats in six out of the last nine presidential elections. Independents did so just once, in 2008 for Obama.

The findings illuminate the political logic behind some recent moves on both sides. Obama has signed a tax-cut bill, proposed a five-year freeze on some domestic spending and reached out to the business community. Republicans are trying to cut off federal money to public broadcasting, the arts and Planned Parenthood and (in Wisconsin) are trying to throw out most collective bargaining rights for unionized public employees.

Galston and Kamarck say the impact of moderates is muted in the political process, to the detriment of Democrats. They suggest that congressional districts be drawn by non-partisan commissions and that primaries be more open, ideally non-partisan with the top two finishers competing in the general election.

The pair also said they'd be open to primaries on a single day, to make them a more attention-grabbing event. Galston, asked about compulsory voting, said he'd like to see a few states experiment with treating voting like jury duty -- compulsory, and you pay a fine if you don't show up.

Jamelle Bouie, blogging at the liberal American Prospect, said the argument that moderates don't have enough influence ignores the content of legislation in the last two years. Citing the Affordable Care Act, which became less liberal as it moved through Congress, Bouie argued that "partisans are disadvantaged in the governing process."

That may apply more to liberals than conservatives. Partisan Republicans do not seem particularly disadvantaged these days -- House and Senate Republicans are for the most part doing their bidding. That may be because, as the numbers show, there is little downside for GOP leaders to stoke their base. By contrast, Obama and Democrats must show caution toward their liberal base or risk alienating the moderates who are vital to their coalition.

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7 Comments

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kt3059

As a moderate....I am all about fiscal, moral and personal responsiblity. It seems those three things have fallen off the radar.

February 25 2011 at 4:58 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
joe

I can tell you that the President should lay politics aside for a while because the economy is taking another big hit from rising oil prices and gasoline prices and the President said that he is not concerned. If he doesn't get concerned soon he will have approval ratings in the teens and the moderates and the independents won't help him.

February 25 2011 at 11:03 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to joe's comment
vobox3343

I take it, you hob-nob with the greatest of economic minds in America? Oh, I forgot doesn't take much for a Republican to think himself a mere genius by his own admittance.

February 25 2011 at 3:34 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
sasha

It is all in the definition of what a "moderate" is. I have considered myself a moderate for forty years, yet because my beliefs have not changed, I am considred a "liberal" now. I am pro-choice, against drug laws, do not care to condemn gays for watever they wish to do, have always favored women's rights, was against Vietnam, Aghan and Iraqi wars, and while growing up a Presbyterian am now an aetheist. So call me a liberal; I do not. The conservatives have veered so far off the edge on the Right, the middle is on the other side of the planet to them. Funny thing is, we are continuing Left, as evidenced by acceptance of gays in society and beliefs that war is not the best answer. But then without some form of liberalism we would still be under the watch of George III's descendents.

February 25 2011 at 10:30 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
tevroc143

I consider myself a moderate and I will NEVER vote for a Republican again. I cannot stand them on any level. Republicans serve the rich and their lobbyist. Nothing they have done is for Middle Class America. They play on things like abortion to get their base fired up, but never do anything significant because ending abortion would mena another million or so per year added to welfare. Obama has disappointed me not because of what he has done, but more because of how he continued the Bush Doctrine. He will win my vote again because Republicans make things worse for the workers.

February 25 2011 at 10:26 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
simplysaid

I'm a moderate and there is no way I'll vote for this President. He looks nice, takes pretty photo shots, gives great speeches and is perhaps the greatest danger to America than any president in modern times.

He's clueless on international relations and seems to hate America, The President gives up too much for show paper treaties and steals the future of America from the mouths of our children. I have to agree with the right here, we have somehow got to stop spending so much money.

I think abortion is the ultimate tragedy from a failure to plan and should not necessarily be allowed for convenience. I fault the religious right for fighting against birth control methods and family planning that does not include abortions. I'm perfectly okay with the morning after pill.

Gay marriage, not too much of a problem as long as no one expects me to be bride or groom. Somehow I still fill that this is a bit of the gay community trying to force their marriage views on Christians.

No problem with gays serving openly in the military however, I prefer that they not shower with me.

Obama's plan is to spend more. I will apologize weekly to my child and grand child until Obama is out of office. I also had to apologize for George Bush for his last term of office for his inexcusable spending?

Questions to ponder,

Why does the tax monies that always come from Middle America always go to Mega Corporations who play little or no taxes?

Why does the same group-the left that is so incensed over small public Christian demonstration and display fight so hard to provide these processes to the Muslim religion"

Why is possession of a Sikh dagger different from the little girl that get's expelled for bringing a bible or fingernail clippers to school.

Why is anyone in America allowed to go through a airport screening with a pass on being searched if they are not carrying diplomatic passports?

What can we do to promote and protect moderate Muslim religious beliefs? What else can we do to prevent sharia law from coming to America?

February 25 2011 at 4:07 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to simplysaid's comment
tool3line2

I am a moderate as well and your list of what issues you support and oppose are not really moderate stances. I would doubt you would find any other moderate who is scared of Islam taking over the US. We don't watch Glen Beck either.

February 25 2011 at 10:04 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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