The Myth of the Moderate

 

From Mickey Kaus, who can always be counted on to drill deeply into social science research if he thinks there’s an immigration angle, comes this very interesting paper from Stanford.

It’s long on academic jargon and, frankly, it made my head hurt to read it, but the gist is this: there’s no such thing as a “moderate” voter.

Voters, according to the study, embrace a collection of “immoderate” positions on a number of issues, which means that when it comes to certain, um, controversial issues, like immigration, they’re almost perfectly out-of-sync with their more evenhanded little-of-this-little-of-that elected leaders. And hopeful elected leaders. Key paragraph from the study:

We show analytically that citizens’ degree of polarization implies surprisingly little about the moderation or extremity of their views on individual issues. Moreover, when we empirically investigate citizens’ policy views in a more nuanced manner, we find that they are often not moderate. For example, many citizens’ ideal Social Security policy appears to the left of most Democratic politicians’ positions, while many citizens’ ideal immigration policy appears to the right of most Republican politicians’. We show that such immoderate views are widespread among citizens and guide their choices.

So, leaving aside the implications of the words moderate and polarized, it does seem that once again it’s taken an academic study to confirm what most of us knew intuitively, which is that voters are perfectly capable of surveying current issues and making individualized policy choices that probably don’t line up with the take-it-or-leave-it Coke vs. Pepsi two-party choices they’re faced with.

And that might explain what — to me, anyway — is behind the current nervous breakdown happening in both parties. A breakdown that I’m increasingly thinking isn’t such a bad thing after all. I mean, we embrace disruption in all sorts of industries and rackets — Uber in the taxi cartel; Netflix in the entertainment business; Charles Schwab in the financial industry — why not in politics?

Not to say it isn’t scary, and not to say that we won’t regret it. We might. But for a moment, anyway, I’m going to spend the next week or so experimenting with the thought that what we’re watching is a Great Realignment, where the two parties are forced to re-acquaint themselves with the true priorities of their voters. Not all crack-ups are bad.

Not to be construed as an endorsement of a certain Dairy Queen coiffed presidential hopeful. But it helps explain why that particular candidate, who has robustly articulated many American’s views on illegal immigration, is doing so well on the hustings, despite rather flimsy bona fides on issues like taxes, abortion, gay marriage — in a party that until two months ago was supposed to be monolithically devoted to those latter issues.

As a thought experiment, anyway. Just trying it out for size.

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  1. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    I don’t understand the Social Security statement. What does it mean to be to the left of Democratic politicians on Social Security?

    Most of American’s position on Social Security is that they don’t want anything to change.

    The fact is that something has to change. Under current law the SSDI goes bankrupt next year and will be forced to cut benefits by 23% and SSI will be bankrupt in 2033 and have to cut benefits. The law doesn’t let the can get kicked down the road permanently.

    • #1
  2. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    As for the moderate myth. I think it is slightly different. Most Americans prefer immoderate solutions. The people who declare themselves as moderates are not those that hold many apparently contradicting immoderate views (these people usually put themselves in one camp or the other) the people who declare themselves moderate generally don’t have much intensity on many issues.

    • #2
  3. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    1.) Is there a link to the particular comment Mickey made?  His new system is interminable to search and navigate.

    2.) This is an old finding in the field, periodically rediscovered.  The “middle” of American politics isn’t particularly ideological, if by ideological you mean “consistent.”  And when you push them, a lot of them are more ideological than they let on (hence the joke about the jackalope of American politics.  When push comes to shove, the “fiscal conservatism” is the first thing on the chopping block).

    However, American ideologies do group in the aggregate.  So while individual voters aren’t consistent, voters collectively are.  And I doubt that’s going to change much.

    Which makes sense when you look at Trump’s support -lots of people who don’t vote, and not that many in the first place.

    • #3
  4. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Yes, I’ve long known this intuitively. But now that I know there’s a study and that study is backed by lots of data, my gut is telling me that my intuition was wrong.

    • #4
  5. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    As Margaret Thatcher once said, consensus negates leadership. And moderates are all about consensus.

    • #5
  6. David Hahn Inactive
    David Hahn
    @DavidHahn

    I’m going to be politically incorrect here: the moderate voter exists, is not very bright and is politically malleable.

    • #6
  7. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Z in MT: I don’t understand the Social Security statement. What does it mean to be to the left of Democratic politicians on Social Security? Most of American’s position on Social Security is that they don’t want anything to change.

    Nope, at least according to this study the majority of Americans want Social Security benefits to increase.  These were the choices:

    1. The government should increase social security benefits AND provide new, direct noncash benefits to seniors such as food aid and in-home care.
    2. Social security benefits should be increased.
    3. Social security benefits should remain at their current levels.
    4. Social security benefits should be tied to the Chained Consumer Price Index, meaning that benefits would rise slower with time than they currently do.
    5. Federal spending on social security should decrease, either by raising the retirement age or decreasing cash benefits.
    6. Social security should be mostly or wholly privatized, allowing taxpayers to invest their social security savings as they see fit.
    7. Social security should be abolished entirely or made semi-voluntary, with the government potentially providing incentives for retirement saving but not managing individuals’ retirement funds

    And these were the results:

    Social Security: 23.4% 36.8% 16.1% 5.3% 7.0% 9.8% 1.5%

    #2 was most popular at 36.8%.  A solid majority (60.2%) voted for 1 or 2.  Another 16.1% don’t want anything to change.  Only 7% favored cuts (#5) and 11.3% favored privatization (6+7).

    • #7
  8. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Z in MT: The fact is that something has to change. Under current law the SSDI goes bankrupt next year and will be forced to cut benefits by 23% and SSI will be bankrupt in 2033 and have to cut benefits. The law doesn’t let the can get kicked down the road permanently.

    Based on the poll numbers I predict that thing most likely to change is the law that prevents kicking the can ever further down the road…

    • #8
  9. The Cloaked Gaijin Member
    The Cloaked Gaijin
    @TheCloakedGaijin

    Rob Long:From Mickey Kaus, who can always be counted on to drill deeply into social science research if he thinks there’s an immigration angle, comes this very interesting paper from Stanford.

    It’s long on academic jargon and, frankly, it made my head hurt to read it, but the gist is this: there’s no such thing as a “moderate” voter.

    Voters, according to the study, embrace a collection of “immoderate” positions on a number of issues, which means that when it comes to certain, um, controversial issues, like immigration, they’re almost perfectly out-of-sync with their more evenhanded little-of-this-little-of-that elected leaders. And hopeful elected leaders. Key paragraph from the study:

    … many citizens’ ideal Social Security policy appears to the left of most Democratic politicians’ positions, while many citizens’ ideal immigration policy appears to the right of most Republican politicians’.

    Mickey Kaus utopia propaganda?  However, perhaps Mickey also has some doubts about social security.

    • #9
  10. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    Z in MT:I don’t understand the Social Security statement. What does it mean to be to the left of Democratic politicians on Social Security?

    Most of American’s position on Social Security is that they don’t want anything to change.

    The fact is that something has to change. Under current law the SSDI goes bankrupt next year and will be forced to cut benefits by 23% and SSI will be bankrupt in 2033 and have to cut benefits. The law doesn’t let the can get kicked down the road permanently.

    American positions on Social Security is a classic example of don’t touch mine. Everyone is for cutting the government in abstract (except for fanatical liberal true believers), but those cuts can’t affect Average Joe American one whit, or he’ll scream. Means test SS to keep it solvent? Hey buddy, I paid into that! That money is mine! (Never mind that you’re getting waaaay more than you paid in. We’ll just leave that inconvenient detail out). This goes for other potential cuts, too. Cut the home mortgage interest deduction? Are you insane??? Close that local military base the Pentagon doesn’t want? Never! That’s OUR jobs, pal! It goes on and on. Americans are utter hypocrites when it comes to federal fiscal responsibility. Which is one reason why Democrats have it easier come election time.

    • #10
  11. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Douglas: Americans are utter hypocrites when it comes to federal fiscal responsibility.

    What most American want from their government is perfectly straightforward: more benefits and lower taxes.

    Which explains why we have a $19 trillion debt.

    • #11
  12. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Sounds right to me. What about Frank Luntz and his tailor-made non-entities?

    • #12
  13. Chris Campion Coolidge
    Chris Campion
    @ChrisCampion

    I’ll explain why moderation is a myth in a few sentences.

    You have two political parties.  So if you’re going to vote, you have to pick a candidate from one of the two parties.  There is no realistic third option.

    So “moderates” are people self-identifying as being practical, sensible, but still voting for a candidate from one of the two parties.

    QED.

    • #13
  14. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Chris Campion:I’ll explain why moderation is a myth in a few sentences.

    You have two political parties. So if you’re going to vote, you have to pick a candidate from one of the two parties. There is no realistic third option.

    So “moderates” are people self-identifying as being practical, sensible, but still voting for a candidate from one of the two parties.

    QED.

    You have this backwards from the article.  When asked about various things, people independently prefer positions more extreme than politicians do.  If average Joe is for a thing, he’s more for it than pols who are for it, and likewise if he’s agin it.

    • #14
  15. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Casey

    Yes, I’ve long known this intuitively. But now that I know there’s a study and that study is backed by lots of data, my gut is telling me that my intuition was wrong.

    Yeah, me too.  It’s something that I’ve speculated on myself.

    • #15
  16. erazoner Coolidge
    erazoner
    @erazoner

    There are two types of moderates: (1) those who don’t have (or hold weak) positions in most of the major issues, because they are more interested in other things, and (2) those who hold strong positions that don’t fall neatly into an ideological category or set of core principles. Both of these types baffle me, not only because of their intellectual inconsistency, but also because they are so numerous. I would guess that these folks would be counted among those least likely to vote, while politicians seem desperate to capture a major portion of them as they could make the difference between a narrow defeat and a narrow victory.

    Many of the self-identified moderates and independents I know are actually quite liberal, and would actually vote for the most liberal candidate when shoved into the voting booth. They call themselves libertarians when they really mean libertine; they love their guns but don’t trust them in the hands of the masses; they find moral equivalence between evangelicals and jihadists; they claim support for the Average Joe but disdain those who don’t look after their collective interests by resisting union membership.

    Conservative politicians seem to have a greater challenge in persuading moderates than the liberals do.

    • #16
  17. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    Casey:Yes, I’ve long known this intuitively. But now that I know there’s a study and that study is backed by lots of data, my gut is telling me that my intuition was wrong.

    Made me snort coffee thru my nose.  Thxalot.

    • #17
  18. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Rob Long: But for a moment, anyway, I’m going to spend the next week or so experimenting with the thought that what we’re watching is a Great Realignment, where the two parties are forced to re-acquaint themselves with the true priorities of their voters. Not all crack-ups are bad.

    Where would this leave the Democratic party?  We have been debating the effect on the Republican party, but how does this make the Democratic party different?  My assumption is that a lot of what is happening is that people just don’t trust Hillary and have not trusted her since 2007 when presented with other options.

    • #18
  19. Jim Kearney Contributor
    Jim Kearney
    @JimKearney

    Rob Long: what we’re watching is a Great Realignment, where the two parties are forced to re-acquaint themselves with the true priorities of their voters

    Make that “priorities of all voters” and I agree wholeheartedly.

    The voter remix extends across party divisions to include independent, “leaning”, minor party affiliated, new voters, and perhaps the largest group of among all, previous non-voters stirred by celebrity personalities, a compelling issue, or the inclination to join all group activities requiring minimal effort.

    American Idol, you have a lot to answer for.

    • #19
  20. TKC1101 Inactive
    TKC1101
    @TKC1101

    Rob, you do make a good point about the realignment. I would restate it as an alignment of donor class vrs. electorate. In that, there clearly is no middle, merely the oblivious.

    Our politicians chose sides decades ago between the two, as well as the media.

    What you see in Trump and to a much lesser extent, Sanders are guys who are perceived to be their own men, not the  owned subsidiary of Big Tech, Big Sugar, Big Hedge Funders or Big Corn…(Add whatever “Big” you wish)

    A very dangerous man once told me “People only want two things from you. Significance and Certainty. If you make them feel either one or both, you can sell them . Make them feel diminished in either and you push them away.”

    The donor class, media and the political class have for decades been making large swaths of the electorate feel insignificant and uncertain.

    What I see now is the phase 2 of the tea party movement, larger and broader and with a personality to aim it.

    Lets hope he doesn’t cross the streams.

    • #20
  21. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    This post should be titled: “The Love Song of the Squish”

    ;-)

    • #21
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