I think this may be just about the most important question in American politics right now. This year, like most elections, independent or what the Media usually call moderate or middle-of-the-road voters will determine the outcome of the presidential election. Yet, what is a “moderate” voter? What do they want? How are they persuaded to vote for one side or the other? Does the term “moderate” even have a set meaning, especially with the political pendulum swinging back and forth so much these days and the middle shifting with it.
A lot of terms are bandied around that seem synonymous with “moderate:” Independents, swing voters, centrists, the median voter, etc. These terms in fact can mean different things and describe different people. Sticking with the idea of moderation, to me, the two obvious questions about moderates are:
- Moderate about what? Is moderation about policy preferences, like health care reform and taxes? Or, is it more of an attitude, and openness to the other side’s arguments and/or a desire for our politicians to solve problems even at the price of – horrors! – compromising with each other?
- Moderate compared to whom? Compared to what people at the ideological poles of our politics believe? Compared to what the average voter believed in the past? If so, moderation is a relative stance, not an absolute one, which limits how much the label can tell us about what believe and why they vote the way they do.
Or, is moderate more of an attitude, a way to describe oneself as being a pragmatist, in favor of solving problems through compromise rather than confrontation? Do moderates want to be above the fray of politics? If so, is the label mainly a justification for refusing to learn enough to take sides in our highly polarized political climate?
On Thursday, I’ll open us up by explaining a little of the research on independent and “moderate” voters. Then, I’d like to begin the discussion by asking the group what they think it means to be a political moderate in this crazy time. Then, I really want to conduct the meeting by asking everyone these questions.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- What does a moderate want our politicians to do? How does that differ from what more partisan voters want?
- If moderate = middle-of-the-road median voter’s political beliefs, what does that mean? Or, does moderate = an attitude of “let’s all be reasonable about things” what does that mean?
- Moderate compared to whose values? Aren’t value judgments inevitable and unavoidable here? Otherwise, wouldn’t moderate = the midway on the spectrum belief whatever that is? Was segregation a moderate position once just because the median voter supported it?
- Are moderates just less well-informed than more partisan voters? If so, is that a problem?
- Relatedly, should politicians really, really, decide what to do based on what the voters in the middle think? If so, might this mean that public policy is always hostage either ignorance or to a moving target – one that gets moved by the political extremes?
- What is the moderate position on the major issues of our day; e.g., taxes, health care, immigration, Iran, bailouts, etc. What makes it the moderate position?
- Who’s a moderate among today’s politicians? Why?
- [UPDATE: Here’s a study of the ideology of voters, from 2009. I will summarize the findings in my introduction. I think this study might overstate how progressive the public is. Still, useful]
- About 15% of the electorate consists of true swing voters. Who they are and what they think.
- Not so fast: There are very few true swing voters and they don’t determine election outcomes.
- (Much more detail) There are five types of independent voters. Only some of them are really up for grabs. (Note: From 2007, when swing voters were all breaking for candidate Obama)
- Centrism as an end in itself is an increasingly untenable position these days.
- Why do independent voters prioritize deficit reduction?
- Be careful: Most voters, even poorly informed independents, are NOT stupid.
See you all there!