The ideological battle for ‘middle’ America

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By ARIEL OLSON-SUROWIDJOJO
Observer Staff
Nov. 29, 2007


Image provided by Professor Robert Vanderbei, Princeton University
Electoral votes by county reveal a “purple America.”

In the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, partisan extremism may be a turn-off for some segments of the U.S. electorate, especially young voters, experts said in a panel discussion on Nov 28. The daylong event, co-hosted by the League of Women Voters and Elderhostel, addressed the nation’s “growing dismay” about political polarization.

But will the red-blue divide matter in next year’s primaries?

In an article published in the Washington Post in June 2004, Robert Samuelson noted that, “politics, and not the country, has become more polarized.” That is, “elected officials, party activists, advocates, highly engaged voters and commentators” have hijacked the parties and left voters across the nation stranded in the middle.

“A lot of states aren’t all that bright blue or racy red,” said Peter Harkness, editor of Governing magazine.

Harkness, whose publication covers state and local politics, said he has observed a notable trend towards “moderate” politics in recent years. He added that congressional re-districting and the “winner-take-all” approach to determining the number of Electoral College votes and a presidential candidate earns, may feed a false perception that the nation is more polarized than it really is.

“These days…states like Virginia and Colorado are going from red to purple and states like Minnesota are going from blue to purple,” Harkness said.

According to the Pew Research Center’s latest reports, recent “shifts” among Independent voters are responsible for the increasing popularity of the Democratic Party, which now boasts a 50 percent approval rating compared to the Republican Party’s 35 percent rating. But according to the report, the Democratic gain reflects a growing dissatisfaction with the GOP’s current leadership more than any particular affinity for the democrats.


Observer photo by Ariel Olson-Surowidjojo
Panelists discuss perceptions of America’s
red-blue divide at the National Press Club.

“We tend to hold the political parties in power accountable for what does get done and what doesn’t get done,” said Donna Addkison, senior associate at Lake Research Partners.

Kat Barr, director of education for Rock the Vote, said that although about 30 percent of young voters (ages 18 to 29) are registered Democrats, between 40-45 percent of young voters identify as politically “moderate”, regardless of their party affiliations.

Addkison said that is because there’s a difference between a “party identification label” and a “political ideology label.” In short, not all registered Republicans identify as conservatives, nor do all registered Democrats identify as liberals.

One 79-year-old woman who attended the panel discussion described her political leanings as “moderate-to-liberal,” but said she hadn’t always been a registered Democrat.“I grew up in a Republican family,” she said, “but that began to change in the ’60s.” Now, she said she’s planning to vote for Barack Obama, D-Ill., in the primaries because he “wants to kind of stay in the middle and get people together and stop all the fighting that’s going on.”

But while a plurality of Democrats identify as “moderate” according to the Pew’s reports, most Republicans still identify as conservatives. That may explain the surprising success of conservative GOP candidates Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney among likely Republican voters in Iowa. According to the latest polls from ABC-Washington Post, the former Arkansas governor and the former Massachusetts governor are now tied in first place, within the statistical margin of error.

According to national surveys, however, voters across the United States are rejecting the nation’s supposed partisan divide and are seeking a moderate presidential candidate for 2008. The most recent Pew polls indicate that moderate presidential candidates hold solid leads over their opponents in the primary races: New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, with 45 percent, on the Democratic side and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, with 31 percent, for the Republicans.

Barr said centrist candidates might pose the greatest appeal to young voters, whom she called “skeptimistic” going into next year’s primary elections. “They are skeptical of radical partisanship but optimistic about the possibility of political reform,” Barr explained.

“Clinton and Obama lead with young voters,” she said, “and Giuliani on the Republican side. These are the more moderate candidates.”

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