Moderates not “liberals in disguise,” according to new report

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The critical role played by moderate voters and lawmakers in American political life is the focus of a new report co-authored by Harvard Kennedy School Lecturer Elaine Kamarck. “The Still-Vital Center: Moderates, Democrats and the Renewal of American Politics” was released today by the Washington D.C.-based think-tank Third Way. It is co-authored by William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution.

In the report, Galston and Kamarck argue that moderates are an essential ingredient of any governing coalition; they dispute the belief that moderates are merely “liberals in disguise;” and they call for reforms that would remedy moderates’ structural under-representation in our political system.

Among their findings:

  • President Obama’s election was not just the result of liberal mobilization but rested on winning a super-majority of moderates.
  • Moderates comprise the plurality of voters in every state – ranging from 46% in Rhode Island (the nation’s most liberal state) to 62% in Nebraska.
  • Since 1976, the Democratic Party has never elected a president without winning at least 60% of the major-party moderate vote.
  • Moderates etch a distinctive political ideology with beliefs and preferences that diverge from those of the Democratic and Republican bases. They are center-left on social issues, middle of the road on economics, center-right on foreign policy and are more skeptical about government than are voters to their left.
  • In addition, “The Still-Vital Center” points to structural problems in the current political process that lead to political polarization and extremism. To cure these problems, Galston and Kamarck propose three major reforms: Reforming the primary system to level the playing field and discourage extremism; Ending gerrymandering; and electing the Speaker of the House of Representatives by a super-majority vote of Congress, which would force the Congressional leadership to reach across the aisle and be more likely to produce bipartisan legislation.

This paper is the latest in a series of reports from the Domestic Policy Program’s moderate politics project, which has already had significant impact in shaping the conversation around the importance of moderates to American politics.