Thursday, July 10, 2014

Death to the Moderates!

Everyone agrees that politicians win elections by appealing to the moderates.  Because they hold the balance between the partisans of the Democratic and the partisans of the Republican Party.

But now comes liberal enfant terrible Ezra Klein to argue that this is all wrong.  And the reason is that moderates aren't really moderate.  Instead they tend to hold a range of opinions on political issues all over the political map.  They only look moderate when you balance their opinions out!
What happens, explains David Broockman, a political scientist at the University of California at Berkeley, is that surveys mistake people with diverse political opinions for people with moderate political opinions. The way it works is that a pollster will ask people for their position on a wide range of issues: marijuana legalization, the war in Iraq, universal health care, gay marriage, taxes, climate change, and so on. The answers will then be coded as to whether they're left or right. People who have a mix of answers on the left and the right average out to the middle — and so they're labeled as moderate.
Now, to be honest, I usually don't give Ezra Klein the time of day, but here I think we should pay attention.

In reality, Klein writes, partisans of the political parties tend to be more moderate than the moderates, because the partisans tend to take up the ideas advanced by their parties.  Political parties are afraid of extreme positions that might not have broad support, for obvious reasons, and so their political partisans follow suit.

The rubber hits the road on all this when states start passing laws like open primaries to encourage the supposed moderate voters.
These reforms include open primary elections, nonpartisan redistricting, and public funding of elections. But "the bulk of studies on these reforms finds little evidence that they improve moderate candidates' fortunes."

The answer, Ahler and Brookman realize, is simple: these voters don't want moderate candidates because these voters aren't actually moderates.
The reason that "moderates" are so immoderate is that they are detached from the political public square, so they don't feel any pressure to moderate their views or make them consistent so that they could enter into a political coalition with a hope in hell of getting their ideas implemented.

On Klein's argument we should encourage party voting and identification because it encourages voters to develop a consistent set of political beliefs.

Klein shows a set of graphs showing the spread of opinion on 12 issues from very liberal to very conservative. He notes that on only two issues is the moderate position the "modal" position.  But, in bad news for conservatives, public opinion is skewed towards the liberal position on Social Security, Medicare, and taxes.

Which explains why nobody is interested in reforming them.

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