By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. GP article archive here. Originally published at DownWithTyranny
An entirely false but constantly sold view of the American electorate (source; click to enlarge)
In an April 2016 piece, in the middle of the Democratic primary, I wrote this about modern independent voters and the upcoming general election:
If you look at the swell of new voters in both parties, the increase is for the “change” candidate, not the one promising to retain and refresh the status-quo. The presidential candidate who wins this election will be the one who best appeals to the new “radical independent”…
Today’s independents aren’t “moderates” who want conventional, faux-centrist policies and less “gridlock.” Political partisans want less gridlock around issues of disagreement, because it advances individual party agendas and careers in addition to those issues. But in the main and with a few important exceptions — women’s health and rights, racial justice, gun violence — both parties have agreed and cooperated on broad policy goals.
Leaders of both parties, for example, broadly believe in the current military style of policing. Both believe in a justice system that coerces defendants into plea bargains, guilty or innocent. Both believe in the “importance of Wall Street to the economy” and that big financial institutions should be defended, not broken up. Both parties have offered and enacted a long and strong diet of lower taxes, spending austerity, war and more war. We’ve had these policies, delivered in a fully bipartisan way, for decades….
Today’s independents, in contrast, are done with that.
This led to a prediction that “to win, Clinton must win Sanders independents. If she fails, she is likely to lose. The problem for Clinton is, how to do that.”
And indeed, Clinton did lose.
There’s more to say, obviously, about why Clinton lost. But it’s certainly true that, if 2016 were not a “change year” election, Clinton would have won by a mile. For example, if Clinton were running for a second term in 2012 instead of Obama, she’d have had no problem beating the Republican. It’s only in a “change year” election — 2008, for example — that a status quo candidate has trouble against a “change” candidate; and indeed, Clinton was defeated by that year’s “change” candidate, Barack Obama.
In 2016, instead of sailing to victory Clinton was nosed out in a squeaker. Even if that win was stolen it could only have been stolen if it were close. To use a football analogy, the refs can’t throw the game to your opponent if you’re winning by four touchdowns. In a hostile stadium with hostile refs, best not be barely ahead with two minutes to go.
In the Center of Nowhere
Confirmation of part of this analysis — that Clinton’s attempt to win by wooing “centrist” voters sloshing undecidely between the parties was an error — comes from a 2016 book, Democracy for Realists, by political scientists Larry Bartels and Christopher Achen. As Eric Levitz writes in a recent New York Magazine article, “The notion that there is an easily identifiable, median political ideology in America derives from the ‘spatial model’ [i.e., linear] of the electorate, which first gained prominence in the middle of the 20th century.”
This “spacial model” of the electorate should be familiar to every American, since it’s sold by every mainstream media outlet. This model posits a single line of policy choices — arrayed in just two dimensions from “left” to “right” — with voters arrayed somewhere along it as well. Thus there are “left” policy choices, “right” policy choices, and voters in a kind of bell-shaped curve arrayed along it as well. “Left” voters prefer “left” policies, “right” voters prefer “right” policies, with the vast majority of voters somewhere in the middle.
Bartels and Achen, as quoted by Levitz, describe the linear analogy this way (my emphasis):
[T]he political “space” consists of a single ideological dimensionon which feasible policies are arrayed from left to right. Each voter is represented by an ideal point along this dimension reflecting the policy she prefers to all others. Each party is represented by a platform reflecting the policy it will enact if elected. Voters are assumed to maximize their ideological satisfaction with the election outcome by voting for the parties closest to them on the ideological dimension, Parties are assumed to maximize their expected payoff from office-holding by choosing the platforms most likely to get them elected.
… [T]his framework is sufficient to derive a striking and substantively important prediction: both parties will adopt identical platforms corresponding to the median of the distribution of voters’ ideal points.
In other words, if it is assumed that most voters are on the “left,” the party to the “right” will drift that way. If it is assumed most voters are on the “right,” the “left” party will similarly move. And if voters are in the “center,” both parties will tend to move there with them.
What Bartels and Achen discovered was something that should have been obvious from the start — that this is just not the case. What they discovered is that there is no political “center” in modern America.
As Levitz writes:
A 2014 study from Berkley political scientists David Broockman and Douglas Ahler surveyed voters on 13 policy issues — offering them seven different positions to choose from on each, ranging from extremely liberal to extremely conservative. On only two of those issues — gay rights and the environment — was the centrist position the most common one. On marijuana, the most popular policy was full legalization; on immigration, the most widely favored proposal was “the immediate roundup and deportation of all undocumented immigrants and an outright moratorium on all immigration until the border is proven secure”; and on taxes, the most popular option was to increase the rate on income above $250,000 by more than 5 percent. Meanwhile, establishing a maximum annual income of $1 million (by taxing all income above that at 100 percent) was the third most common choice, boasting four times more support than the national Republican Party’s platform on taxation.
When pundits implore Democrats not to abandon the center, they do not typically mean that the party should embrace legal weed, much higher taxes on the rich, and mass deportation. More often, such pundits call on Team Blue to embrace a combination of moderate fiscal conservatism, a cosmopolitan attitude toward globalization, and moderate social liberalism— in short, to become the party of Michael Bloomberg (minus, perhaps, the enthusiasm for nanny-state public-health regulations). The former New York mayor is routinely referred to as a centrist in the mainstream press, despite the fact that his policy commitments — support for Social Security cuts, Wall Street deregulation, mass immigration, and marriage equality — when taken together, put him at the fringes of American public opinion[.]
Levitz’s article presents a graphic claiming to show there are no voters to of the “socially liberal, economically liberal” type. The study of prospective 2016 voters from which the graph was taken was made in 2014 — before the Bernie Sanders campaign convincingly proved otherwise.)
Why Do Democrats Pursue Non-Existent “Centrist” Voters?
If there are no voters in the political “center,” a strategy based on winning them is likely to fail. So why pursue them? Perhaps because voters aren’t what the Democratic Party — or either American political party these days — is pursuing. Perhaps it’s because what both parties are actually pursuing — is money.
Levitz seems to agree. In his article he quotes David Broockman, the study’s co-author, as saying this in an interview:
When we say moderate what we really mean is what corporations want … Within both parties there is this tension between what the politicians who get more corporate money and tend to be part of the establishment want — that’s what we tend to call moderate — versus what the Tea Party and more liberal members want.
From this we can easily draw three conclusions:
- The only “center” in modern American politics consists of policies the people who finance elections want to see enacted.
- The mainstream media and both political parties regularly labels these policies “centrist.”
- The way to be called “moderate” by the mainstream press is to advocate for “centrist” policies.
And yet, one can easily predict a series of “change year” elections stretching far into the future in which “centrist” candidates will fail again and again, since America’s economic problems show no signs of being fixed anytime soon.
This is not because the means of fixing those problems don’t exist, though, and aren’t readily at hand. Levitz closes by saying:
On most of these [economic] issues, effective policy responses aren’t unknown — they’re just considered politically untenable. We know how to reduce inequality and eradicate poverty: you redistribute pre-tax income from the rich to the poor. When America expanded the welfare state, its poverty rate went down; when it scaled back the safety net, the opposite occurred. Nordic social democracies devote more resources to propping up the living standards of their most vulnerable citizens than most other countries, and their poverty rates are among the lowest in the world, as a result.
We know how to reduce student debt: You have the government directly subsidize the cost of higher education. And we know to reduce medical costs while achieving universal coverage — you let the state cap reimbursement rates, and subsidize the medical costs of the sick and the poor until everyone can afford basic medical care, (as they do in virtually every other developed nation on Earth). And while we can’t be certain about exactlywhat it will take to avert ecological catastrophe, we know that the more rapidly we transition our energy infrastructure toward renewable fuels, the better our odds will be.
It just means that voters’ desire to see them fixed will go unfulfilled by any party running a “status quo” candidate.
Radical Independents Are Here to Stay
The day of the “radical independent” is here. Yet by not selling themselves as proponents of economic reform in addition to reform on the numerous “rights” or “identity” issues, the Democratic Party is abandoning the demographic it needs to start winning elections again.
Has anything changed recently with the introduction of the Democrat’s “Better Deal” campaign? Richard Eskow convincingly argues no. It may be time to admit that the reason we have Republicans in power — in a majority of states as well as the federal government — owes less to Vladimir Putin than it does to mainstream Democrats themselves.
Americans have not much ability to “fix” Vladimir Putin. Do American have the ability to “fix” the Democratic Party, to cure it of its need to pursue money instead of voters? Perhaps, but not if the Party doesn’t want to be fixed.
“Bait & Switch” isn’t a new tactic that politicians use on voters. Nothing is what it seems, in the land of “Smoke & Mirrors”.
So FM gives credence to the PutinPutinPutin Bernaysium?
Yes, why does he diminish his argument by bringing in Putin, especially when GP mentions that any alleged Putin influence should have ineffectual if the Democrats had run a decent candidate?
I believe Netanyahu has far more influence in USA political outcomes than the Democratic punching bag Putin.
Maybe Netanyahu should be mentioned by GP as a candidate for “fixing”?
I see the Democratic party as following the path of Sears Holdings.
Both sell their products (influence for Democrats, consumer goods for Sears) to a continually shrinking and uninterested populace.
It was suggested that Sears would go bankrupt this summer, while it appears the elite Democrats have some more time to extract personal wealth.
The Democratic party is working well for the people at the top.
I read that as a sarcastic jab. After all, if one believes that Putin had zero to do with the election, his statement still works.
Note that I didn’t say Putin was the thief, if anyone was. If there was theft at all, it could just as easily — or more easily and more likely — have been the Republicans, à la Kerry in Ohio, or Max Clelland in 2002 in GA.
I’ve actually run across some statistical indication that the Rs did have their hand in the electoral cookie jar in a few of those Rust Belt states, but I haven’t chased it down enough to validate it.
But all that aside, my bottom line is the same — Absent Dem misdeeds (nominating a status quo candidate in a change year) it wouldn’t have even been close.
I think centrist exist. They are the true independents that aren’t associated with either party. Not those that clim to be independent but really are republican or democrat in their voting patterns. In terms of numbers there are approximately an equal number of voters that always vote either democrat or republican. Therefore these independents are the voters that usually determine the winner in an election. Trumps win was unusual. He convinced many traditional democrat voters to vote for him. Similar to what Ronald Reagan did. Generally they were the people that were hurt by globalization and the democrats ignored them. They ate the Trump make America great rainbow stew. Presently the democrat party is pretending to cater to these people. The problem is that the leadership are the same Wall street democrats. As bad as Trump and republicans are , Wall Street democrats will continue to lose to republicans. Once you lose your base it’s difficult to win them back. Especially if you have no real way to pass legislation to win them back. It’s a sort of Catch 22. I talk to this people every day so I have a real sense of the actual voters opinion. So far I’ve not seen one Trump supporter think there is anything wrong with Trump. To them he is still an outsider that will drain the swamp. They also don’t have a clue about what republicans are doing in congress or what Trump appointees are doing. The only way democrats will again win is if the same thing happens with the economy that happened under bush II.
It appears you didn’t read the piece. That is a violation of our site Policies.
Gaius made clear that majority/leading plurality positions on numerous issues are NOT in the center of the political spectrum. The center is a myth and you are not dealing with the information he presented in the post. You are regurgitating the incorrect views of the MSM and most political commentators, who live in an Acela corridor bubble.
If you want to disagree, you need to provide information and arguments, not state uninformed personal views.
Thanks Yves. Good policy.
Gaius did a fine job of “mak[ing] it clear that majority positions on numerous issues are not in the center of the political spectrum”. However, that does not prove there is no effective political center in US politics.
1) The “non-centrist” positions that polled strongly, maximum incomes, deportation of illegal immigrants, and marijuana legalization, came from one study. It appears to be a very credible study, but Gaius did not indicate that it had been repeatedly reproduced at any point (and it’s now 3 years old).
2) They are all issues which are distinctive in the extent to which Americans are broadly exposed to the matter under consideration. The poll responses demonstrate that most of us dislike being oppressed – directly and obviously oppressed. By petty, excessive policing & punishment for noncrimes, by illicit competition for jobs, and by legalize theft, masquerading as “job creation”
3) Other, swiftly dismissed sections of the same study indicate Americans are quite “centrist” on the environment and gay rights, 2 rather huge issues that pertain to many other policy trends at the federal level. These responses suggest we may, in fact, be fairly centrist across a broad range of matters. What we don’t favor are policies that correlate with direct, visible oppression of average people.
2 more specific, and therefore more valid conclusions that can be drawn from the data cited by Gaius are:
Americans favor centrist policies, unless they are being directly, obviously screwed by their elites via the ‘centrist’ policy.
Many specific policies now referred to as politically ‘centrist’ in the US are nothing of the kind, but are touted as such by the propaganda efforts of the MSM.
I believe that GP was arguing not so much that there is no center in American politics, but that there is not this mythical linear enumeration of policies, a political spectrum. Each social problem, taken individually, have common sense solutions, preferred by the electorate, not ideological ones.
The linear model of political preferences does not reflect the reality of the American electorate but a artificial construct designed by the elites and their media spokespersons to present their preferred outcomes as being in the “middle”, some sort of compromise, whereas in reality they are on the fringe of public opinion. Using that construct Michael Bloomberg is a centrist whereas he is really a radical elitist. The Gillens & Page study out of Princeton clearly illustrate this. The Bernaysification of electoral politics.
Bottom line there are problems and practical solutions, which the Electorate support. The “centrist” position is the solution that always favors the economic elites, they being at the “center” of power.
I don’t like the term “centrist” to describe voters as its incomplete, but there are not any “independent swing voters.” No one sits at home on a Monday in November and thinks, “I have to vote tomorrow. This guy likes guns but hates gays. This guy is indifferent to guns and is indifferent to gays. I know I voted for the former guys political friend, but I’ll vote for the latter today. I am an independent voter.” A person might identify as an “independent” but evidence indicates people vote for the same party over and over again.
Or…”that guy played the saxaphone and fussed about the national debt.” “I like his character, and the way he was liberal but talked to the Chamber of Commerce.” These people don’t exist, or we would see precinct level data of votes clearly flipping between parties. If “centrists” existed, there should be precincts of 1000 registered votes and fairly stable resident populations where one election there will be 600 Democratic votes followed by elections of 600 Republican votes. Instead what is seen is closer to Democratic precincts having high or low turnout. Areas with high ownership rates and no students produce remarkably similar vote totals from election to election regardless of the candidate.
Also, very few if any ballots are cast where voters voted for both a Republican and Democrat. The only time there was “split ticket” voting was when the “Solid South” still had “Dixiecrats.”
iirc (will try and find you a link when I get home), most independents are either Democratic leaning or Republican leaning, those who are nonaligned are a small slice. So although many ppl do indeed call themselves moderate, they’re not in the mushy middle as GP is saying. Instead they usually have a variety of opinions which would indeed be labelled “left” or “right”. Actual centrists are rare even among independents so it’s silly to consider them the kingmakers when you could pursue the Sandernista independents.
“So although many ppl do indeed call themselves moderate, they’re not in the mushy middle as GP is saying.” @Darn
No GP is not saying that, he is saying precisely that there is no “mushy middle”. Being an Independent doesn’t mean that one is in the “middle”, neither left or right. It means that the voter is non-ideological and focused on problems and solutions and not ideology.
The Political Spectrum idea is an ideological construct that allows the elite to shift public opinion to a mythical “middle”, that doesn’t really exist, at the same time sanitizing radical ideologies like neo-liberalism as being in the “middle”. Notice that policies in the “middle” always favor the economic elites.
No policies are put forward unless the elites can cash in on them. For instance health care. The “right” favors every man for himself health care, the “left” a national health care system. The “middle” then magically becomes subsidized private insurance provided health care, with the maximum return for the financial elites. Even single payer, though it leaves out the financial middleman, perpetuates the incredibly corrupt medical industrial complex, where the credentialed and the “owners” cash in big time.
Again, the cap & trade solution to climate destruction. The “right” favors climate destruction denial, the “left” strict emissions controls, rationing fossil fuels. The magical “middle” then becomes Cap & Trade so that the financial elites can cash in by buying and selling carbon rights and at the same time not having to limit their own carbon footprints with their luxury villas, yachts and private jets.
Again, there is no political solution to problems, unless the financial elites can cash in and avoid having their own profligate consumption limited. Having absolute power pays and pays and pays, as well as corrupting absolutely.
Positing that there is a “middle” lets politicians move the Overton window and lets them recruit people’s natural psychology to prefer “moderation” over radical change.
So presented with a choice between an “all war, all the time” candidate (Cruz) and one who just wants a moderate amount of war (Bernie), people think it’s most reasonable to pick an intermediate position. “No war” is never on the menu.
Reminds me of a terrible landlord I once had, we moved out and she counted the thumbtack holes (27) and multiplied by the contractor quote she received to come and fix one of them ($25) so $675. The small claims judge, instead of realising this was unfair math and normal wear and tear, said she was “being moderate and reasonable” and so was meeting halfway. Judgement for the plaintiff in the amount of $337.50.
Sorry I worded that sentence ambiguously Allegorio. I am agreeing with GP who is saying the mushy middle doesn’t exist.
I was trying to back him up: actual centrists only exist in small numbers, they rare even among independents, who are mostly Dem- or GOP-leaners. This means that independent and moderate aren’t synonyms for centrist.
Indies who are not leaners are about 10-15% of the electorate for some years now (other polls show similar to the following link). You wouldn’t guess that from all the talk of moderation from the talking heads on TV. http://www.gallup.com/poll/180440/new-record-political-independents.aspx
As for adults in general, not just likely voters, they’ve favoured Dems over the GOP by ten points for ages. Might as well bolster turnout among likely Dems and stay-at-homes instead of chasing the 10% true indies. http://mattbruenig.com/2014/11/11/despite-election-american-people-hold-same-views-as-before/
The “spatial theory” school of voting is almost forty years old now. I know because I did coursework with both its fathers, Enelow and Hinich, in grad school. If Bartels and Achen really wrote this criticism, then they’ve grossly misrepresented it.
Spatial theory posits multiple ideological dimensions and doesn’t specify voters have to fall in any specific place in the ideological space. It’s all data-driven. The dimensionality is decomposed from the underlying eigenvectors of candidate rankings by each voter and is remarkably consistent. That is to say, thousands of very diverse voters rank their distance from candidates in a consistent manner indicating an underlying structure universal to a society’s views of the issues on which candidates campaign (usually two dimensions of conflict, sometimes with a third or fourth smaller one). Those voters may themselves cluster in the middle or at various ends of the ideological space. That’s an issue addressed by the population survey and how voters rank candidates.
Funding of candidates does affect supply of policy positions and thus candidate ranking. There may well be prefered candidates who aren’t offered to voters because they can’t raise the cash but then that would simply show existing candidates farther away from most voters on the ideological space (which is, indeed, what I think today’s data shows on various issues). Candidates lacking cash may have opinions functionally hidden from voters and thus be positioned in a fuzzy way on the map instead of as a fixed point.
Any push towards the middle is produced by America’s first-past-the-post voting in the general election and that doesn’t always happen in a district if enough of the voters cluster in one spot. (And before you pimp for proportional representation, there is no large, ethnically diverse country where this has ever produced a stable democracy. Think India or Russia. A place like Belgium is very tiny and even it has its problems with PR. Before you argue with me, you’ll have to convince us that the Senate would be more functional with six parties instead of the two it has now. Fans of parliamentary governments trying to fling them on Americans please reread that sentence until you see reason. In America, interest groups negotiate in the party before the election instead of after the election as a party in the government.)
Furthermore, I found the spectrum diagram for this article confusing. In fact, “far left” and “far right” governments do tend to resemble one another institutionally, despite their distance on the practical issues. Both Hitler and Stalin had death camps, kangeroo courts, secret police, official propaganda and rigged elections.
The Democrats had several problems in the 2016 race.
1) 500,000 registered voters were knocked off the rolls by racists using an “Interstate Crosscheck” system that basically amounts to knocking similar black- and Hispanic-sounding names off the rolls. That was more than the margin in the three closest states. (We created registration lists to prevent Segregationist election tampering and now they’ve been turned into a tool for the very bigoted vehicle they were meant to derail.)
2) Gerrymandering also further depresses turnout because Democratic voters know in such districts their votes count for less.
3) Oh, and Trump got a few billion dollars worth of free press and lied about his policy positions, thus moving his position around on the spatial map closer to where the voters were (where did that war on bankers, drug companies and lobbyists go?). Candidates will do that.
If voting behavior isn’t your forte then you might want to avoid grand, sweeping statements about entire subfields in political science.
This is a gem. Political “Science” is not science.
IF you’re doing real science, and your experiment starts with a 1 ounce U.S. Mint gold coin, and you’re explaining the experiment & you stand in front of the crowd with a pine 2 by 4 stud and call the 2*4 a 1 ounce gold coin – you have NO credibility.
Even if your how many angels are on the head of the pin argument is correct about Enelow & Hinch – where were you when Democratic Party dirty hippy punching got Dukakis the nomination? For decades the Dems have been peddling the Kerry Clinton Clinton Gore … whatever crowd, cuz, ‘remember McGovern & we’ll scare the middle & we’ll lose!!”
Want to be labeled a “moderate” and a “Centrist” by mainstream media – parrot CONventional Whiz-Dumb. Ta Da. Does it matter that the CONventional definitions of these terms serve the ruling cla$$e$ of bandits and their suck ups, and, do not serve the rest of us? It hasn’t, but, HOPE-fully it will.
Your excuses for Hillary losing are hilarious. They brilliantly ignore the fact that after the 2000 election mess there was a HUGE outcry for reform of election processes, and, what did the Dem-0-RAT Cla$$ do? Fell in line behind GWB Jr. & his flag waving. I guarantee that the average citizen could care less about complaints about a crooked system which is fixable, given that the excuse making crooks running the crookedness just keep concocting excuses for the mess instead of fixing the mess.
You just proved the Dems are after money just like the GOP.
When the voting computer systems, including their respective Sec. of States, of the three states that gave Trump his Electoral College win are examined and found to be untampered with, I will lay my doubts about Trump’s “win” to rest. Hell, look back to Bush’s “win” and Bush’s “win” in Ohio.
Bartels and Achen did write what’s quoted, but a page or two later they discussed the more complex multidimensional case, with reference to a work by Davis, Hinich, and Ordeshook. I don’t have the book in front of me, but you can find portions of it in Google books. I cannot say whether the later discussion by Bartels and Achen handles your concerns in a satisfactory way or not.
I know nothing about “spatial theory” or Enelow and Hinich, however, I do know that both the graphic the and description of a linear model of voter preference very much fit the image I hear being peddled by the media. Also, Hitler and Stalin both ran very state-ist and nationalist governments that placed little emphasis on personal freedom. By pointing out their similarities, you have demonstrated just how silly the linear view of politics is. (I’ve never met a lefty fan of Stalin, but then I live in South Carolina, so I have a limited sample size).
“Any push towards the middle is produced by America’s first-past-the-post voting in the general election” – This still assumes there is a middle. There is no middle. I think that there are policy preferences that:
A. benefit the wealthy
B. that do not specifically effect the wealthy
C. there are policy preferences due to rivalries among the wealthy.
“A” is the “center”, and “B and C” are the “left vs. right” issues that we get to vote on.
Last point, Republican could win a lot of primaries in the South by running somewhere between a social conservative and social libertarian while supporting anti-monopoly, high tax rates for uber-incomes, affordable healthcare, and a job guaranty. That is if this person could get any traction to start with.
Good points, particularly highlighting the two authoritarians supposedly at opposite sides of the spectrum. Made me think (thank you for that!), how does anarchy wind up on the same side of the divide as Stalin (or Lenin, for that matter)?
Funny, on your list of Democrat election problems I didn’t see this one:
4) Not very many people like Hillary Clinton and she was a terrible candidate.
We know the issues with gerrymandering, purging voter rolls, and voting machines that don’t work. This is not something new that just happened in 2016. If the Democrat party actually gave a damn, they would have been working to rectify this over a period of years rather than just whining about it as an excuse when they lose.
The Democratic establishment is not there to win elections. They are a Republican fifth column used to prevent truly left progressive candidates from getting on the ballot. Their purpose is to get rich by performing this function for the ruling elites. Trust me despite their faux resistance, they prefer Donald Trump, whom they helped elect, over Senator Sanders.
They have no problem with austerity, cutting social security, militarism, Wall Street, predatory capitalism, income inequality. Obaminator made the biggest cuts to the Food Stamp program in history. Bill Clinton made possible the consolidation of the mass media, instituted mass incarceration and by repealing Glass Stiegle, made possible income inequality on scale not seen since the gilded age. These are not Democrats, they are Republicans in Democratic clothing.
A perfect description of the Democratic Party, to sweep up any challenges from the left that challenge the plutocrats and either neutralize or co-opt them. They preferred to lose to Trump than accept Saunders.
“The Democratic establishment establishment is not there to win elections.”
I absolutely agree!
“They are a Republican fifth column” – IMO, no one is leading anyone else like that; elite Dems are not like anyone’s stooges, they are the ruling elites. It’s a collusive dance, and it’s not too hard to learn the steps: just never challenge in the other party’s anchor districts. Then the two (or I should say several) vicious factions snarl at each other and divide up the spoils.
Perhaps I just mince words! Your comment got me thinking, thank you.
Absolutely, its like two criminal gangs, fighting with each other to decide which one robs your home.
“In fact, “far left” and “far right” governments do tend to resemble one another institutionally, despite their distance on the practical issues. Both Hitler and Stalin had death camps, kangeroo courts, secret police, official propaganda and rigged elections.” @ Wade Riddick
So given that our society now has death camps, the prison industrial complex, extraordinary rendition, drone killings of citizens, indefinite detention, Guantanamo Bay; kangaroo courts, 98% of court cases are not tried but coersively plea bargained; secret police, the NSA, universal surveillance; official propaganda, the CIA dominated mass media and rigged elections, you can’t vote against Goldman Sachs, our Government is not moderate and democratic but a Far Left/Right dictatorship. Sounds about right.
According to the FDA’s own conservative estimates, over a forty year period six million died due to transfats that were injected into the food supply without any scientific safety assessment. We just sold margarine to people and said it was “more healthy” because companies profited more on the patents for artificial chemicals. About the same number of Jews were exterminated by a different sets of chemicals in Nazi Germany – also for profit. Their gold fillings were ripped out and even their hair was harvested.
Nobody asked me what kind of government we have today. What do you call it when government is owned and operated by private businesses for private profit? Isn’t that pretty much Mussolini’s definition of fascism? I refer you to Henry Wallace’s warning in his New York Times editorial. We live in a Republican/Segregationist/corporate ownership order that’s been reasserting itself periodically throughout our history. If Jeff Sessions sounds like he belongs in a squadron of old Southern regulators, it’s because he does.
Ignorance makes this possible.
Why do you think so much money is spent on advertising to create false consciousness?
Only one respondent came close to addressing the actual scientific issues I brought up about voting theory – and, yes, there is a science when you have millions of voter records and opinion polls to sort through. Simply having an opinion does not make you an expert in anything. You sound like climate deniers to those of us who have actually processed this data and observed the patterns.
Voters can and do rank candidates in an orderly fashion that suggests people share a common, underlying and unifying cognitive methodology for processing political issues and that they tend to see the issues and candidates in quite logical – and, if you will, geometric – ways. Voters may take different positions on the battlefield but they know where other candidates and voters fall on the map.
Candidates who spend lots of money lying can move themselves all over the state space. That’s why people steal money and lie. It works. It gets them elected. Then they do the opposite. The result is perpetual voter disillusionment since none of the policies they were promised ever materialize.
Of course, spend enough money and the voters themselves might start to move on certain issues. They may even move in an opinion poll depending on how your phrase the question.
As someone whose family fought for civil rights here in Louisiana, every time I hear “Democrat Party” I hear KKK. I hope you understand exactly how you’re perceived when you use these contemptuous insults.
As for there being a middle in politics, when 80% of the country wants a ban on corporate money in politics, I’d say that’s a pretty big middle. Funny how that’s never an issue in a campaign. As I said, money has an influence.
There are also majorities supporting public education, public health insurance, drug reimportation and social security – sometimes quite substantial majorities.
I thank “Vatch” for his helpful remarks. If you want to see a derivative of spatial theory at work, take a look at the ideological map of Congressional voting histories put out by Poole and Rosenthal. It shows the Republicans drifting into la-la land long before most people noticed.
Over the past three months, I have been having long conversations with my husband’s cousin (of whom I have written here in the past); the small family farmer in NW Pennsylvania, who, if given the choice between Death and Voting Democratic, would have to cogitate for five or ten minutes before announcing his decision.
We laugh over me being so far left and he being so far right that we have somehow traversed the curve of the universe and met, not in the center, but in some distant, as yet unnamed, political Galaxy.
Here’s where we agree: universal health care with the federal government being the single payer who brings enormous pressure to bear on provider costs, especially on pharmaceutical companies. He also thinks dental care should be a part of heath care. His health insurance premiums have been steadily increasing and he does not provide health insurance for his employees. He believes everyone should have low cost health care. And go to a dentist.
Big corporations have too much power and need to be reined in. Especially Walmart. He hates Walmart because they ‘persuaded’ the nearby small city to give them a prime parcel of land for a super store and parking lot. The land happened to be his best potato-growing field. This is personal.
Another big corporation he believes has way too much power: Monsanto. Seed costs are increasing dramatically, way out of proportion to his revenue. And, it’s becoming more difficult to buy non-Monsanto (or Syngenta, etc.) seed. Oh, and ‘super-weeds’ resulting from those Round-up Ready seeds.
Government rules and regulations and bureaucracy, specifically State regulations governing small food producers. I was holding down the stand at the farm the day last month when the inspector came from the health department. We had to remove all the jams made by the Amish woman who does all the farm preserving, and has for decades. (No one has sickened from eating her luscious Triple Berry Jam on toast, that we know of.) Now, he must submit samples for each batch, by mail, to a testing laboratory and wait weeks for a result, before they can be sold at the stand. Plus pay $35 per batch, plus mailing costs. We both suspect that the big food companies are behind these regulations. I told him about the Maine food sovereignty law which has just been passed.
Fat Cats. He sees his small area of the country sliding deeper into economic depression; he worries that his neighbors will no longer be able to afford the food he produces and will be shopping at Walmart to buy cheap processed ‘food.’ He knows there are people in the US with enormous wealth and he works 365 days a year, drives a rusted out pick-up and wears clothes that the Salvation Army would turn down as donations. If we need to tax ’em, let’s do it!
He and I agree on women’s rights; he comes from a family of strong farm women who could dig potatoes all day, then go in and cook dinner complete with frosted 7-layer cake. He goes to church, two or three times a year, but works with and admires the conservative Amish who are his neighbors and friends. He thinks LBGT persons should be treated like everyone else.
We disagree on the $15/hour minimum wage. He can’t afford to pay his workers that much and still keep the farm going. It bothers him that he can’t afford to provide his workers with health insurance. Which brings us around to …. universal, single payer, health care.
Meanwhile, he frets because, due to the frequent rain showers, he still hasn’t been able to get in his first cutting of hay.
Thanks, Eclair, for the enlightening report (if I may pun on your name): I don’t find your cousin’s beef with Walmart personal–as a leftist as left as you are (I’ve read your other posts), I can say that what your cousin objects to is exactly what I object to. The way that big companies force cities to do their bidding is a scandal, and real estate becomes a power play in almost every municipality.
To go back to the article, none of us is a centrist. Yet as you point out, we have plenty to agree about. Further, these tendencies toward agreeing on the big issues are what I am hearing as I attend community forums here on the Far North Side of Chicago. At the last one, for gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss, what you have described was pretty much the sense of the meeting. Again, as the article points out, the populace is not in the “center.” The “center” is being defined as the very limited area of decision that the powerful allow to the populace.
I recall driving through western Pennsylvania and staying at Beaver Falls at a B&B–within the last four years. The town is so beaten down that the main employer is Geneva College, a tiny dissident Presbyterian school (you know, Presby fundies). Other industry drifted a way years ago, and the town’s population has been halved. What’s left of downtown Beaver Falls is a disaster: The former Salvation Army Store went under. That’s how bad it is. Meanwhile, the Democrats were recruiting young Jon Ossoff…
Wow, DJG, when the Salvation Army Store can’t stay in business …..
Maybe we should rename the coalition of the establishment Dems and Republicans, the Bourbon Center. Totally clueless, playing at being the ‘working class’ in their little fake dairies, and frantically holding on to their inherited, divinely ordained power.
I would be really inspired and optimistic by the agreement of the majority on the big issues; health care, social safety nets, free education, heavier taxation of the wealthy, and so on, but when cornered and threatened, the powerful are so good at starting a war and waving the flag of patriotism …. the last resort.
More anecdotal evidence that the super rich who are buying “apocalyse insurance” are sadly right: this is probably going to end in a destructive revolution, which makes me afraid for my kids and their kids.
“Totally clueless, playing at being the ‘working class’ in their little fake dairies, and frantically holding on to their inherited, divinely ordained power.” @ Eclair
Again with the “clueless”. This is not a bug it is a feature. They are not clueless. They are the ones with the luxury villas, the yachts and private jets and an army of lawyers and politicians to do their bidding. They are not clueless, They are immoral psychopathic slime, but they are not clueless.
You are probably correct, Allegorio. And I thought I was cynical!
What I’m reading above is that you and your cousin-in-law(is that a thing?) are basically normal people trying to make a living, like the overwhelming majority of people in this country.
Regarding $15/hr, fast food chains and big retailers can suck it up and maybe raise prices, improve quality/experience, no real massive overhaul required.
Clearly, $15/hr is a tough ask for farmers, in particular. I’m guessing it’d require an overhaul of the current business model of farming (which needs an overhaul for a variety of reasons like health, quality, environmental destruction, etc). The current system of farm subsidies would definitely need to be part of the overhaul, with some combination of price supports/subsidies for little guys and tough anti-trust measures on the big ag companies that squeeze those small producers. I wonder if he might soften on the $15/hr issue if a big reform were combined with Medicare-for-All (rescuing him from healthcare costs, too).
I know small organic farmers out here in deplorable flyover country who have paid 15 for years now. Considering the price and quality of their produce 22 plus should be the realistic goal.
new word for the sticky mess of unbelievably onerous bureaucracy descending on you: jammed.
I will ask at the farmers market if the same is true here. Maybe it has to do with the size of the operation? Outrageous
Ha! Good one ChiGal.
Maybe it’s a size of business issue, one size does not fit all in business regulation. Just as easily it could be that it’s a boat load easier for a bureaucratic twit to hassle Eclair’s cousin than to take on the no doubt toxic industrial food producers the laws were written for.
We see a similar approach with the IRS all the time: constant pecking away at lower middle income people while leaving corporate trillions in probably illegal tax shelters un-pursued. It’s sad to say, but in the US today the law is only as good as your lawyer and those who can’t afford to lawyer up have a tough row to hoe.
Great anecdote, and totally consistent with both the comment I made earlier and a great many of the interpersonal political interactions I’ve had over the years. The “false” political spectrum depicted by GP is false mainly because it is represented as linear and bipolar. If you bend the line into a circle connecting the poles, with perhaps the addition of “Libertarianism” to bridge the gap between the “leave me alone” impulses of the Anarchists and big-business corporatocracy of Facists I think you would have a decent over-simplified model. Details and labels aside though, if you move far enough left or far enough right people find themselves overlapping to a very high degree somewhere in a true middle ground that’s radically different from Washington Centrism, Mike Bloomberg, what or the media would call “the middle”. My guess is it would look a lot like the group redneck revolt which I believe was featured in the links section recently. Anti-fascist, pro-labor, anti-racist/nationalist, pro-gun (not total ammo-sexual wingnut pro-gun, but pro-second ammendment with common sense limitations at least), egalitarian, generally socialist but not overly cosmopolitan. Minority friendly, but without getting bogged down in the divisive trenches of identity politics. I could be wrong, but that at least that’s where I think the middle would be without Fox News and MSNBC etc.
Exactly, JerryDenim. But one of the big problems I see with establishing solidarity, is the labelling. People may have similar views on issues like single payer, free education, social safety nets, curtailing the power of big corporations, the environment, and so on, but we have been placed (or have chosen to go) into groups with labels that have decades of baggage tagged on to them: Democrat, Republican, Libertarian. And these are the socially acceptable labels. What about Communist, Anarchist, Socialist? Until a few years ago, ‘socialist’ had been a banned term for decades. What do we call ourselves? I have some young, radical friends who refer to The Movement. That’s a fairly neutral term.
It’s worth noting that a lot of the punditocracy embraces Bloombergism as being centrist because that’s the position that lines up with their interests. They’re upper middle class, if not straight up rich, so they want low taxes, pro-finance policies. But no “traditional values” cramping their style. Just enough government spending, keep the plebs from revolting but not enough to pull them out of poverty; oh, the horrors if their luxury coop building has to set aside some apartments for the poors! And spending in the right places; infrastructure spending is wasted on middle America, but please dump more money into the northeast corridor and my precious Acela line.
Now to be fair, most people like to imagine that their particular political view constitutes the “center.” Difference being that most people aren’t on meet the press every Sunday morning.
For sure. But that’s no accident. If you were a Bloomberg type, those are the kinds of people you would promote to tell the public what to do. They will do the most ardent job.
I like the super simplistic chart GP makes fun of (from anarchism to fascism – so linear and easy to grasp for USA Today readers!)
My only real comment/request is to somehow include the red/blue scatter plot chart in this article.
What a gap between our political elites and where the population wants to be!
I love how NO ONE but the elites holds the Michael Bloomberg view of being socially liberal and economically conservative. In fact, there’s barely anyone who leans right economically at all.
Nice chart! I wonder where its center would be. Seems somewhat to the left of center economically and a smaller somewhat to the right of center on social issues.
This same study is cited by GP. But maybe the elevated consensus on deporting all illegal immigrants is driven as much by economic concerns as prejudice or rule-of-law?
An interesting feature of the chart is the paucity of pure libertarians. There are economic libertarians and there are social libertarians, but very few people are both economically and socially libertarian. There are substantial numbers of people who are:
* economically libertarian (small government supporters) and socially conservative
* economically left wing and socially libertarian
* economically left wing and socially conservative
But very few:
* economically libertarian (small government supporters) and socially libertarian.
I realize this oversimplifies people’s thinking, but it is better than a one dimensional left / right continuum.
I’m too lazy to check the link, but perhaps the best way to think of it is that there is a center for each issue, thus dozens of centers. Maybe the real problem in trying to make one chart to show where opinion is. Why do we need such charts? Do they further the idea that representative democracy can be democratic? Would an effective form of direct democracy give us a set of policies that pursue the center for each issue?
The reality is that the political system is completely bought out, as this article describes. The rich dominate the narrative. In reality, centrist actions are not worth defending, because they have screwed people over.
There is a a huge gap between what the ordinary base wants and the donors want. You do not see ordinary folks in town hall meetings urging for deregulating the financial sector, tax cuts for the rich, or sending manufacturing jobs overseas, leaving their countrymen with nothing. That is only on the agenda because the US is a plutocracy and the rich want it on the agenda. I guess if represent Wall Street, which Chuck Schumer apparently does, that may be the case, but if you are truly a representative of the working class, then no, it does not.
As far as socially liberal but economically conservative, one would argue that the only people who are like that are the rich and the libertarians. By rich, many in the upper 10 percent hold similar views. I suppose that Clinton fancied herself in her 2016 campaign trying to win libertarians, only her views on war would make her far too warlike for most libertarians. Her views on civil liberties too might have issues with libertarians. In reality, she was too corrupt to even try to defend the public interest.
It may very well be that the Democratic Establishment is doomed. Certainly they are extremely unwilling to reform. Russia has become a dangerous scapegoat for their own failings. Perhaps the Draft Bernie option or some other left wing movement is our best option.
Exactly right. While the right and left essentially push forward a very similar agenda for the wealthy and powerful, the regular “folks” are told to argue about the “important” issues at hand like sex education, evolution in the classroom, abortion, etc… I won’t go so far as to say they are essentially the same, because I think one side is far more concerned with completely screwing over the middle and lower class, but neither is really concerned with their voters either.
I can’t even imagine having a real national conversation about a progressive tax system with such rates for top earners. Any such proposal would be bastardized beyond recognition by the time it made it through the politicians and Fox News filter to the poorly educated voter who already doesn’t know how a progressive taxation system works despite paying into it for 50 years. “If I make a million dollars the gubmnt will take 100% of it!!!”
I think this is completely missing the point. Democrats aren’t doomed, nor or Republicans. We’ve been through this cycle and will continue. The pendulum swings one way, then everyone wants change and it swings back. Unfortunately, neither end of the proverbial pendulum represents the voters wishes at all it just represents “change.”
Misleading title aside, the gist of this article seems to be not that there really is no political center, but rather the “center” as depicted by the media is a false construct representing policies preferred by corporate America/’the donor class’ but not the public.
I believe that if Americans were allowed to have a national conversation with an honest arbiter an awareness of a broad political center would emerge. The constant screech of identity politics and partisan kayfabe is very effective at keeping Americans divided and conquered, but individually I believe there is broad support for many issues the news media labels as ‘fringe’. Sometimes popular ideas get labeled ‘far right’ like abolishing the neoliberal protections for the black market pool of foreign excess labor conferred by “sanctuary cities”. Other broadly popular issues like jailing criminal executives and reinstating a steep progressive income tax that skews towards confiscatory for very high earners (5 million plus) gets labeled fringe “left” although such measures enjoy broad support from those who typically vote Republican as long as the question is phrased properly.
I believe there is a broad popular center in this country but the news media labor mightily to suppress it and convince the populace otherwise.
Are there any good corporations? “My rich guy is better than your rich guy.” is what I used to say, or “My crook is better than your crook.”
Reading back in history I was shocked to discover that corporations risked having their charters yanked by the government if they did not contribute to the public good, were good for society.
Some economist, Friedman was it?, he said corporations with shareholders had a moral obligation to give money to their shareholders no matter what damage they did to the society. Right, am I missing something?
There is no corporate personhood. My study of the railroads brought me round to this core of catastrophe Big Lie.
What kind of Supreme Court do we have that bases its judgements on the heading in an argument that one judge says he doesn’t want to talk about in a case covering a different subject?
Alan Paul at the NC DOT RR Division told me I was not the first person to notice that there was no corporate personhood.
The charter for CSX in North Carolina was given in perpetuity to CSX by the Confederate States of America. How is that?, since according to US law the Confederate States of America was never recognized as a legitimate government, which is why the Union was within it’s rights in suppressing the rebellion intended to spread slavery, or really inflated mortgages on valuations of slaves westwards to keep the bubble of those pieces of paper sold to Northern banks rolling along instead of collapsing.
References are to Ed Baptists “The Half Has Never Been Told”, and phone calls to Alan Paul Deputy Director of NC DOT Rail Division, along with readings of the 14th Amendment and associated events also profiled in a Thom Hartmann show papers of which are put in my documents folder or and found on my Twitter archives.
The corporations have to destroy government because government otherwise has the power to make them stop being evil. The TPPs Investor Dispute Settlement Court? It was that that was to be the triumph over sovereign nations, so whomever lined up to defeat the TPP had to be defeated meaning Bernie Sanders & the Clinton Unit.
Trump said he was also against the TPP, but since he is a congenital liar everybody that voted for him, or backed him by giving him the Television spotlight & all the currency of fame the world could give anyone, powers figured they could pick and chose from his basket of insincere positions to get whatever they wanted.
He has succeeded in appointing 27 judges, who may well go on creating more Big Lies and just making up laws, like corporate personhood is a made up law.
The Left-to-Right spectrum is obsolete and needs to be discarded.
This is terrible news.
The why of it is geographic co-location of those with similar ideologies as has been discussed before.
Rural America is turning into an echo chamber for conservatism, and Urban America is turning into an echo chamber for liberalism.
An echo chamber has no checks and balances so you end up heading to an extreme point of view.
So everything is compounded. Not only do we get primaries where only the most extreme candidate wins because of the concentration of one party over another in the district, we now get extremism in desired platforms and state and federal level elections.
Perhaps the only silver lining is that the only way for a candidate to win the majority is to be more right on the most important issues of the immediate time for the voters. The person that tries to tell voters what their biggest issues are will lose, which I think is the heart of this article.
Rural people want antitrust, broad band, jobs. These are opportunities Democrats are leaving lying on the ground because, as GP says, they’re not after voters. They’re after money. People with money don’t want the things that will help those without.
Centrist should be most popular overall, Msm thinks it means most popular among the best and brightest credentialed, or the elites.
Basically Econ plus anti war, and Econ meaning what is or has become most important to the middle class. So uni health, low sister ed, no immigrants because they push down wages (precisely why elites want open borders), no h1b same, higher min wage, redistribute income downward, don’t confront Russia, get out of ME, in short what is centrist among middle class is opposite of elites because donors, excused as markets.
rep and dem elites are nearly indistinguishable on these issues, and have nothing in common with middle class with whom they are at war. Trump won by promising change, like big o, she lost because she was too honest re her intentions.
To review the should-be obvious (sorry if this is a duplicate; haven’t had time to read the other comments):
First, most punditry deliberately conflates the overlap between the major parties with the “center.” As the article implies, that’s a lie; issue polls consistently, over many years, show majority support for a long list of progressive (for lack of a better term) policies; universal health care and peace are prominent. The Democratic Party supports very few of those policies; there is a yawning gulf on the left. To be fair: evidently open immigration is not one of those popular policies, which puts most people at odds with the Green Party, too.
Second: very few policies are inextricably tied to each other. In reality, it’s a grab bag; the traditional “right” and “left” assortments are just samples in a large universe of possible combinations – eg, universal health care and peace with tight border controls. That last would be a fairly common “populist” combo.
This is particularly obvious coming from a party that set out to be something new, “beyond left or right.” In practice, the “social justice” component identifies us with the Left, but some other policies don’t. A note: conservationists are now the only genuine conservatives, the only ones trying to conserve something. So apparently some Green Parties in eastern Europe are more right-wing and join coalitions with conservative parties – mostly to their detriment, as it turns out. That might be what happened in Ireland, too.
“Center” makes me think of schwerpunkt. Since “the center” is both a purely ideological construct and of great value to elites, one would think it’s “the centre of gravity, point of main effort, where a decisive result [is] to be achieved”….
What the establishment calls ‘centrist’ is now basically just code-language for neoliberalism in the economic realm and neoconservatism in the foreign policy realm. If the goal is to destabilize our civilization — and a lot of the world — as much as possible, that’s just the way to do it. That’s why Tariq Ali refers to the establishment parties as the “radical center”.
That graph shows just how stupid we are considered. For sure: we couldn’t grasp one with 3, 5 or however many axes. And when it comes to issues there are so many! A polarity graph can only be valid for one issue at a time.Each issue has its own center of mass.
S–t, I shouldn’t have said that…they may suspect oaf of more than one functioning neuron.Back to my hovel.Eyes downcast; incoherent.
Re: people who are socially liberal and economically conservative, yes there aren’t many of them but they do tend to have money and they are more politically active and likely to vote hence why the Democrats always try to court them. I think it is a bad strategy but that is the thinking on this matter. Poor people are less likely to vote and are considered unreliable so the thinking is that it is a waste to spend too much time getting them to the polls. I don’t agree with this thinking but that is the conventional wisdom on this matter.
Another issue that the left must contend with is that people are not well-informed and often vote out of tribal loyalties instead of a rational analysis of their economic self-interest. Too many people on the left seem to think that all you need is a “good platform” with a lot of goodies for ordinary working people. Conservatives realize that most people are not very interested in politics or policy debates and operate based on tribalism so they are good at tearing apart left-wing platforms with dog whistles about those lazy “others” who will get the goodies on your dime.
The Old Left was successful because their messaging was simple and confrontational and not overly complex wonk-speak. The modern conservative movement took many cues from the Old Left and that is how we got right-wing populism like talk radio, Fox News and Donald Trump.
What the DNC calls the center is the New England Country Club Republican model
Socially Liberal, Fiscal conservatives.
The Billionaires like the idea of fewer peasants so a bit more abortion and contraception
and that way they have fewer proles demanding their cut of the lucre.
But there is a political ‘center’ in modern American politics, and the parties really are gravitating towards it exactly as standard theory says that they should.
It’s called the donor class. It’s called money.