by John Hawkins | November 14, 2008 3:18 am
Over at National Review, James Gimpel has written a piece called “Center? What Center? The center is never a fixed position to move toward” that I agree with wholeheartedly. In fact, it echoes what I wrote earlier this week in a piece called “GOP Branding.”
Here’s an excerpt from Gimpel that’ll give you the gist of the piece,
The critical assumption here is what political scientists call the “spatial model.” According to the spatial model, there is a continuum running from left to middle to right. Along this horizontal axis are policy preferences with conservative positions anchoring the right, liberal positions anchoring the left, and “moderate” or “centrist” positions in the center. Public opinion is distributed on this continuum such that there is a bulge in the middle, reflecting where most voters are located, with the number of voters shrinking as one moves toward the right- and left-hand sides.
If this is true, adopting policy positions in the middle is the only way to victory — after all, that’s where the bulge is. If we move too far to the right, there are too few voters there, and we wind up with the Goldwater landslide. John McCain’s defeat has also been attributed to his running too far to the right, compared with his opponent.
This seems to make sense. But what if the spatial model is wrong?
For 50 years now, survey research has suggested just that: It is, in fact, wrong, because there is no coherent center. There are no fixed, well-considered policy positions in the center to which voters there adhere.
The research suggests that those who at various times occupy this center, often described as moderates or independents, are not very knowledgeable about or interested in politics. They do not follow campaign coverage closely, are inconsistent in their policy views, and are often not able to identify what positions are liberal or conservative.
What characterizes the centrist voter is not some peculiar set of policy positions, but rather ignorance of policy issues in general, coupled with vague impressions of the “goodness” or “badness” of the times. So-called centrist or moderate voters can’t even be counted on to vote.
Consequently, they make a lousy starting point from which to frame a campaign platform. A campaign doesn’t move toward them, but instead attempts to inspire them to come in the candidate’s direction. The incoherent center moves to the left or to the right, inspired by the candidate’s enthusiasm and the enthusiasm of his supporters. It is foolish for the candidate to move to the center, because the center is never a fixed position to move toward.
Moving centrists toward one’s candidacy is not a process that hinges on taking the right policy stands, either. Instead, it involves the enthusiasm and social contagion that builds around exciting candidates. We know from several volumes of political-science research that less-informed voters commonly substitute someone else’s judgment for their own. That someone else is often a spouse, workmate, or neighbor knowledgeable and enthusiastic about one of the candidates. Support for a candidate spreads through social influence processes.
In other words, you don’t “move to the middle” so much as influence the middle to move towards you. If this theory is correct — and I believe that it is — the GOP has two huge problems,
#1) The party’s base and the conservative media is deeply unhappy with them. So, there is very little “enthusiasm and social contagion” that will attract moderates into the Republican camp.
#2) The GOP no longer has the courage of their conservative principles and so, on many of their core principles, they offer up nothing but mush.
In other words, we’re a small government, cost cutting, law and order party of the middle class and honest government that supports big government, ever increasing deficits, illegal immigration, tolerates corruption, and doesn’t offer much to the middle class.
People wonder why small government and cutting deficit spending doesn’t appear to be all that popular with the American people right now. Well, could it be because the same Republican politicians who are talking up “small government” have brought us large deficits, the Medicare Prescription Drug benefit, and are nationalizing our banks as part of a ridiculous, unnecessary bailout?
If the Republicans in Washington don’t even believe in their own party’s principles, is it any surprise that moderates don’t either?
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