Moderates

Partisanship vs. Centrism

Partisanship vs Centrism

                        Robert A. Levine

Gallop polls in the first quarter of 2021 showed that more Americans were Democrats than Republicans, but the largest bloc of voters identified as independents or centrists. 30 percent of people in the survey called themselves Democrats, 25 percent Republicans, 19 percent were independents who leaned Democratic and 15 percent were independents who leaned Republican. Thus, independents overall were 34 percent vs 30 percent Democratic and 25 percent Republican.

According to various polls during the last decade, pluralities to small majorities of Americans identify themselves as centrists, moderates, or independents. The variability in statistics are probably related to how the surveys were conducted and questions asked, what year  data was collected, and whether bias was present in the polling organizations. Notwithstanding, moderates and centrists were usually the largest bloc. This means extremists in both political parties, generally the most vocal, do not represent most of the citizenry, though avid partisanship among politicians makes government dysfunctional.

In October 2013, an NBC News/Esquire poll had 51 percent of Americans labeling themselves as centrists, 44 percent of whom did not believe their views were represented by either party. A poll by The Third Way published in May 2014, had 37 percent moderate, 42 percent conservative and 21 percent liberal. 42 percent of millennials identified as moderates in this survey. These were the youngest group, seeming to indicate America will be growing more moderate in the future. Similarly, non-white and Hispanic participants described themselves as moderate by a plurality of 44 percent.

A poll by the Pew Center in April 2015 revealed 39 percent of Americans considered themselves independents, 32 percent Democrats, and 23 percent Republicans. The data came from interviews with more than 25,000 citizens. In more than seventy-five years of Pew polling, this was the highest percentage of independents ever reported. Those with post-graduate or college degrees leaned Democratic as did racial minorities and those religiously unaffiliated. Millennials also favored Democrats 51 to 35 percent. Mormons and white evangelical Protestants were overwhelmingly Republican. White Southerners and white men without college degrees tended to be Republican, and there was a GOP bias of four percentage points among citizens over sixty.

Though centrists may represent the largest political group in America, animosity and partisanship between parties is the strongest it has been in decades according to a Pew Study in 2016 and Washington Post poll in 2017. Party members associate negative qualities with members of the opposing party, a rising tide of mutual antipathy making it challenging for the two parties to govern together. Negative feelings between party members have increased over the years, more so since 2000, the process labeled ‘affective partisan polarization’ or negative polarization by political scientists. Antipathy towards the opposition party is a major motivating factor for partisans, and it is difficult for democracy to function as each side demonizes the other and compromise is a struggle.

Though various surveys show a plurality or majority of Americans are not extremists or partisans, the partisans are more politically active than their moderate brethren. Their agendas are the ones debated in the halls of government, determining the laws that are or are not enacted. A CBS poll in 2011 had 85 percent of Americans favoring compromise by politicians to get things done, including 75 percent of Republicans. However, their message was apparently not transmitted to politicians in Washington and state capitals. Another factor driving partisanship is that the wealthy top one percent is politically zealous and contributes large sums to officeholders and candidates with views similar to theirs.

Partisanship is also more evident now because the percentage of Americans labeling themselves ‘consistently conservative’ or ‘consistently liberal’ has doubled in the last twenty years from 10 to 21 percent. In addition, Democrats and Republicans are more likely to socialize with people having similar political positions. There are also media voices that amplify differences between the parties and benefit from the ‘climate of bitterness.’ Polarization in both Houses of Congress is at its highest level in nearly a hundred and fifty years.

In many democracies, ‘identity’ is the critical determinant of how individuals cast their ballots. People vote for politicians because they share the same religion, race, or ethnicity. These factors may be more important than whether candidates are honest or competent or have the same positions on issues, though often voters are in the dark about these aspects because they have not investigated them. Identity politics reinforces partisanship, particularly in nations riven by tribal, religious, or ethnic hatreds and fears.

American politics has become more tribal in the last quarter century, dominated by partisans in both parties. With their own values, each tribe has its own facts regarding history, economics, and science. Beliefs about climate change and global warming is an example. Members of each tribe tend to think similarly and have similar interpretations of events and views about political figures, as well as comparable personality traits. Interestingly, CT scans of brains in each group show similar structural changes. Conservatives tend to have larger amygdalas, part of the limbic system involved in processing emotions, such as fear, anger, disgust and pleasure. Liberals tend to have a larger anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain that deals with uncertainty, handling conflicting information, impulse control, morality and ethics. In both tribes beliefs can be changed, but it is difficult when brains may process information differently.

‘Tribalism’ has been critical in the growth of partisanship. In the past, citizens’ identities were through families, communities, churches, employment, unions, clubs, lodges, and so forth. People were part of something greater than themselves. But these bonds have been sundered by modern society. Divorce and single parent families are common. Small towns and rural communities are in decline, with young people moving away. The lack of connection and of belonging to something has impacted Americans negatively. Alcohol and drugs have been an escape for some and others have chosen to be active members of political parties, adopting the characteristics of their ‘tribes.’ Social media may also augment the stances partisans take. This makes it harder to compromise or see the humanity and understand the positions of opponents.

Americans need to learn to treat political opponents with respect and dignity which may be difficult when opponents support bold-faced political lies. Particularly harmful is the lie that the presidential election of 2020 was stolen and actually won by Donald Trump, when there is no evidence to support this claim. If American democracy is to thrive, the flame of partisanship must be lowered to allow both Republicans and Democrats to work for the good of the country rather than constantly battling each other. And we need more independents to speak up.

www.robertlevinebooks.com

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Creating a Third Party of the Center

Creating A Third Party of the Center

Robert A. Levine

            “It must be realized that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more uncertain of success, or more dangerous to manage than the establishment of a new order of government; for he who introduces it makes enemies of all those who derived advantage from the old order.”

            Niccolo Machiavelli- The Prince [i]

            The time has come for a seismic shake-up of America’s political system. The nation’s current political parties are corrupt and self-serving, tethered to lobbyists, special interests and their own partisan bases, and unable to govern productively. To bring about change, a permanent third party of the center is necessary to recalibrate the political equation and start the country on the road to reform. This party must not be dependent on PAC financing but derive direct funding from its supporters. The Republican Party is already splitting three ways, with supporters of Trump, true conservatives and moderates. Trumpists have even considered forming their own third party. The Democrats are split between leftists and moderates.                       

The idea of a permanent third party for America is not new, the reasons that argue for its creation having existed for many decades. Indeed, there have been a number of unsuccessful attempts at gestation, resulting in stillbirths or early demises in infancy. Currently, disillusionment with the government and dismay about the ability of the established political parties to fix matters remain at a high level. Unless the nation is able to accomplish a meaningful revision in the way it is governed, the United States is destined to decline. To effect the required metamorphosis, a permanent third party is needed that values moderation, pragmatism and compromise.

Though revolutionary changes in political systems and mass social movements are usually initiated by the left or the right, this revolution should arise from the center, a protest against America’s two entrenched parties. John Avlon in his book Independent Nation remarked- “Centrism frees voters from the false dichotomies that dominate American politics by offering them a third choice between the rigid extremes of the left and right, a commonsense path that acknowledges the inevitability of change while never straying far from fundamental American values or founding principles… Centrism is the most effective means for achieving the classic mission of politics: the peaceful reconciliation of competing interests. Extremists and ideological purists on either side of the political aisle condemn compromise. But inflexibility either creates deadlock or dooms a cause to irrelevance.” 

A Pew Poll in May of 2019 had 38 percent of Americans identifying as politically independent. An NBC News poll in 2013 had 51 percent of Americans considering themselves as moderates, independents or centrists. Most surveys have the percentage of independents between these two numbers. But voters are accustomed to voting for either Democrats or Republicans and starting a new centrist party that is competitive will not be easy. With the current parties holding a duopoly of power, state and federal laws place barriers in the path of any upstart that might challenge their control. And aside from the legal obstacles, there are also emotional impediments that must be overcome in America’s citizenry to allow a new third party to gain traction. But a new permanent third party of the center can be viable, with the opportunity to realize its goals and win both local and national elections. There are new tools and transformative technologies available for an interloper to level the playing field with the two established behemoths, even though their deep pockets are constantly being refilled by the lobbyists and special interests.

The main asset this new entity will have in its favor is the dissatisfaction of Americans with the political climate. There is a vast body of citizens in America who do not participate in the political process or vote in elections because they feel their votes are inconsequential. Some of these men and women can form the base of a new party, along with independents and centrist Republicans and Democrats who hold their noses when they go to the polls, casting ballots because they feel it is their obligation as citizens. These people might flock to the banner of a political organization that pledged to run incorruptible candidates and would try to end the ideological bickering that has precluded action on so much necessary legislation. To be successful in this insurrection, the new party must persuade Americans that it is a real alternative to Republicans and Democrats, will have staying power and will not fold after one election cycle. It must be able to convince average citizens that it is worthwhile for them to cast their ballots for an untested political upstart that has a vision for a new way of governing. And if it is able to gain credibility among the electorate, it will make centrist politicians who are on the fence more willing to commit themselves to this intriguing new player.

www.robertlevinebooks.com

Buy The Uninformed Voter on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.