There Is No "Political Center" In Modern America

Authored by Gaius Publius via Down With Tyranny blog,

An entirely false but constantly sold view of the American electorate

In an April 2016 piece, in the middle of the Democratic primary, I wrote this about modern independent voters and the upcoming general election:

If you look at the swell of new voters in both parties, the increase is for the "change" candidate, not the one promising to retain and refresh the status-quo. The presidential candidate who wins this election will be the one who best appeals to the new "radical independent"...


Today's independents aren't "moderates" who want conventional, faux-centrist policies and less "gridlock." Political partisans want less gridlock around issues of disagreement, because it advances individual party agendas and careers in addition to those issues. But in the main and with a few important exceptions — women's health and rights, racial justice, gun violence — both parties have agreed and cooperated on broad policy goals.


Leaders of both parties, for example, broadly believe in the current military style of policing. Both believe in a justice system that coerces defendants into plea bargains, guilty or innocent. Both believe in the "importance of Wall Street to the economy" and that big financial institutions should be defended, not broken up. Both parties have offered and enacted a long and strong diet of lower taxes, spending austerity, war and more war. We've had these policies, delivered in a fully bipartisan way, for decades....


Today's independents, in contrast, are done with that.

This led to a prediction that "to win, Clinton must win Sanders independents. If she fails, she is likely to lose. The problem for Clinton is, how to do that."

And indeed, Clinton did lose.

There's more to say, obviously, about why Clinton lost. But it's certainly true that, if 2016 were not a "change year" election, Clinton would have won by a mile. For example, if Clinton were running for a second term in 2012 instead of Obama, she'd have had no problem beating the Republican. It's only in a "change year" election — 2008, for example — that a status quo candidate has trouble against a "change" candidate; and indeed, Clinton was defeated by that year's "change" candidate, Barack Obama.

In 2016, instead of sailing to victory Clinton was nosed out in a squeaker. Even if that win was stolen it could only have been stolen if it were close. To use a football analogy, the refs can't throw the game to your opponent if you're winning by four touchdowns. In a hostile stadium with hostile refs, best not be barely ahead with two minutes to go.

In the Center of Nowhere

Confirmation of part of this analysis — that Clinton's attempt to win by wooing "centrist" voters sloshing undecidely between the parties was an error — comes from a 2016 book, Democracy for Realists, by political scientists Larry Bartels and Christopher Achen. As Eric Levitz writes in a recent New York Magazine article,

"The notion that there is an easily identifiable, median political ideology in America derives from the 'spatial model' [i.e., linear] of the electorate, which first gained prominence in the middle of the 20th century."

This "spacial model" of the electorate should be familiar to every American, since it's sold by every mainstream media outlet. This model posits a single line of policy choices — arrayed in just two dimensions from "left" to "right" — with voters arrayed somewhere along it as well. Thus there are "left" policy choices, "right" policy choices, and voters in a kind of bell-shaped curve arrayed along it as well. "Left" voters prefer "left" policies, "right" voters prefer "right" policies, with the vast majority of voters somewhere in the middle.

Bartels and Achen, as quoted by Levitz, describe the linear analogy this way (my emphasis):

[T]he political “space” consists of a single ideological dimension on which feasible policies are arrayed from left to right. Each voter is represented by an ideal point along this dimension reflecting the policy she prefers to all others. Each party is represented by a platform reflecting the policy it will enact if elected. Voters are assumed to maximize their ideological satisfaction with the election outcome by voting for the parties closest to them on the ideological dimension, Parties are assumed to maximize their expected payoff from office-holding by choosing the platforms most likely to get them elected.


[T]his framework is sufficient to derive a striking and substantively important prediction: both parties will adopt identical platforms corresponding to the median of the distribution of voters’ ideal points.

In other words, if it is assumed that most voters are on the "left," the party to the "right" will drift that way. If it is assumed most voters are on the "right," the "left" party will similarly move. And if voters are in the "center," both parties will tend to move there with them.

What Bartels and Achen discovered was something that should have been obvious from the start — that this is just not the case. What they discovered is that there is no political "center" in modern America.

As Levitz writes:

A 2014 study from Berkeley political scientists David Broockman and Douglas Ahler surveyed voters on 13 policy issues — offering them seven different positions to choose from on each, ranging from extremely liberal to extremely conservative. On only two of those issues — gay rights and the environment — was the centrist position the most common one. On marijuana, the most popular policy was full legalization; on immigration, the most widely favored proposal was “the immediate roundup and deportation of all undocumented immigrants and an outright moratorium on all immigration until the border is proven secure”; and on taxes, the most popular option was to increase the rate on income above $250,000 by more than 5 percent. Meanwhile, establishing a maximum annual income of $1 million (by taxing all income above that at 100 percent) was the third most common choice, boasting four times more support than the national Republican Party’s platform on taxation.


When pundits implore Democrats not to abandon the center, they do not typically mean that the party should embrace legal weed, much higher taxes on the rich, and mass deportation. More often, such pundits call on Team Blue to embrace a combination of moderate fiscal conservatism, a cosmopolitan attitude toward globalization, and moderate social liberalism — in short, to become the party of Michael Bloomberg (minus, perhaps, the enthusiasm for nanny-state public-health regulations). The former New York mayor is routinely referred to as a centrist in the mainstream press, despite the fact that his policy commitments — support for Social Security cuts, Wall Street deregulation, mass immigration, and marriage equality — when taken together, put him at the fringes of American public opinion[.]

Note that this analysis is multi-dimensional. Even a two-dimensional representation couldn't do it justice.

Why Do Democrats Pursue Non-Existent "Centrist" Voters?

If there are no voters in the political "center," a strategy based on winning them is likely to fail. So why pursue them? Perhaps because voters aren't what the Democratic Party - or either American political party these days - is pursuing. Perhaps it's because what both parties are actually pursuing - is money.

Levitz seems to agree. In his article he quotes David Broockman, the study's co-author, as saying this in an interview:

When we say moderate what we really mean is what corporations want


Within both parties there is this tension between what the politicians who get more corporate money and tend to be part of the establishment want — that’s what we tend to call moderate — versus what the Tea Party and more liberal members want.

From this we can easily draw three conclusions:

  • The only "center" in modern American politics consists of policies the people who finance elections want to see enacted.
  • The mainstream media and both political parties regularly labels these policies "centrist."
  • The way to be called "moderate" by the mainstream press is to advocate for "centrist" policies.

And yet, one can easily predict a series of "change year" elections stretching far into the future in which "centrist" candidates will fail again and again, since America's economic problems show no signs of being fixed anytime soon.

This is not because the means of fixing those problems don't exist, though, and aren't readily at hand. Levitz closes by saying:

On most of these [economic] issues, effective policy responses aren’t unknown — they’re just considered politically untenable. We know how to reduce inequality and eradicate poverty: you redistribute pre-tax income from the rich to the poor. When America expanded the welfare state, its poverty rate went down; when it scaled back the safety net, the opposite occurred. Nordic social democracies devote more resources to propping up the living standards of their most vulnerable citizens than most other countries, and their poverty rates are among the lowest in the world, as a result.


We know how to reduce student debt: You have the government directly subsidize the cost of higher education. And we know to reduce medical costs while achieving universal coverage — you let the state cap reimbursement rates, and subsidize the medical costs of the sick and the poor until everyone can afford basic medical care, (as they do in virtually every other developed nation on Earth). And while we can’t be certain about exactly what it will take to avert ecological catastrophe, we know that the more rapidly we transition our energy infrastructure toward renewable fuels, the better our odds will be.

It just means that voters' desire to see them fixed will go unfulfilled by any party running a "status quo" candidate.

Radical Independents Are Here to Stay

The day of the "radical independent" is here. Yet by not selling themselves as proponents of economic reform in addition to reform on the numerous "rights" or "identity" issues, the Democratic Party is abandoning the demographic it needs to start winning elections again.

Has anything changed recently with the introduction of the Democrat's "Better Deal" campaign? Richard Eskow convincingly argues no. It may be time to admit that the reason we have Republicans in power — in a majority of states as well as the federal government — owes less to Vladimir Putin than it does to mainstream Democrats themselves.

Americans have not much ability to "fix" Vladimir Putin. Do American have the ability to "fix" the Democratic Party, to cure it of its need to pursue money instead of voters? Perhaps, but not if the Party doesn't want to be fixed.


LindseyNarrate… (not verified) Tue, 08/08/2017 - 19:07 Permalink

That is a completely false-premise.  From what you people know of me, via my prolific comments, "I" am a true centrist, who is fiscally-conservative, more Left-leaning, socially, and really only believe in issues that I feel, truly, are intellectually-honest, and are NOT GOING TO CAUSE REAL HARM, AND/OR "UN-INTENDED-CONSEQUENCES". I think that MANY people, here, at Mr. Durden's site, are like me, philosophically, as well, and if THAT is the case, then our situation can be extrapolated-out, to include a large number of other people, across the entirety of our nation. Lindsey NB:  I am in no way, shape, or form, "perfect", but I DO have-a-very-kind-and-good-heart, and only want to see justice-served to the malefactors deserving-of-justice, and those needing a HAND-UP, not, necessarily, a "hand-out", receive the help that they deserve, as citizens.

All Risk No Reward PresidentCamacho Tue, 08/08/2017 - 19:31 Permalink

There can be no freedom in a country whose money is privately controlled and lending it into existence at interest.

False choices are presented here.

The problem is people grasp onto these false choices for dear life in an their ultimately vain effort to avoid the truth like it were the plague.

Only freeDUMB exists in a Debt-Money Monopolist Mega-Corporate Fascist Empire... or the latest reincarnation of the Roman Empire ruled over by the man whose number was 666 (and 616, depending on methodology) - Nero.

In reply to by PresidentCamacho

All Risk No Reward Son of Loki Tue, 08/08/2017 - 20:03 Permalink

@ LindseyNarrated, then you have to take up the issue of the debt-money Trojan horse that is being used as the the world's most sophisticated weapon (way more sophisticated in its operation than the a-bomb) to conquer planet Earth.


"The issue which has swept down the centuries and which will have to be fought sooner or later is the people versus the banks."
~Lord Acton

"Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely."
~Lord Acton

How To Be a Crook

Poverty - Debt Is Not a Choice

Renaissance 2.0 The Rise of [Debt-Money Monopolist] Financial Empire

Debunking Money

Krugman (and each MIT economist professor - THEY KNOW AND THEY OCCULT!) is a Goebbelsian propagandist as he covers the crimes of wolves with his fake sheep suit and lisp.

Krugman to Lietaer: "Never touch the money system!"

And don't think Steve Keen is any better. He was called to the carpet for not admitting the system is a fraud when it was explained EXACTLY HOW THAT FRAUD WORKED... and he tucked tail and ran away PRETENDING he was responsive...

The Principal And Interest On Debt Myth (technically correct, but practically reveals inherent fraud as exposed CLEARLY in the comments section)…

Bottom line - Steve Keen won't "touch the money system" either. He learned well from his Debt-Money Monopolist Overlords.

30 sheckels of silver over THE TRUTH.

"The best way to control the opposition is to lead it and/or finance it."
~Yours truly, based upon Vladimir Lenin's quote

"If all the bank loans were paid, no one could have a bank deposit, and there would not be a dollar of coin or currency in circulation. This is a staggering thought. We are completely dependent on the commercial Banks. Someone has to borrow every dollar we have in circulation, cash or credit. If the Banks create ample synthetic money we are prosperous; if not, we starve. We are absolutely without a permanent money system. When one gets a complete grasp of the picture, the tragic absurdity of our hopeless position is almost incredible, but there it is. It is the most important subject intelligent persons can investigate and reflect upon. It is so important that our present civilization may collapse unless it becomes widely understood and the defects remedied very soon."
by: Robert Hemphill, Credit Manager of Federal Reserve Bank, Atlanta, Ga.
Source: In the foreword to a book by Irving Fisher, entitled 100% Money (1935)

In reply to by Son of Loki

el buitre Future Jim Tue, 08/08/2017 - 20:23 Permalink

The short answer is that the Tylers like to pull our chains to make sure we are awake.  Agree that his article is total BS.  But it brings to light the stupidity of the idea of the center of the left-right paradigm is our salvation.  Boy Bush was a fascist and the Hildabeast is a communist wannabe.  Yet when you cut the BS from their presentations sucking up to their supposed constituencies, they have had the exact same agenda.  You can't slip a piece of paper between them.  War, Slavery, the rape of our children, and the impoverishment of the middle class.  That is the real agenda of our politicians / whores, "left" and "right."

In reply to by Future Jim

Jimmy Jimmereeno el buitre Tue, 08/08/2017 - 22:15 Permalink

Wrong; wake up and start to pay attention.  The short answer is not that "the Tylers like to pull our chains..." but that the ownership of ZH has again changed hands.  Haven't you noticed the new roster of "contributers" in the past several weeks? The owners have introduced their own (biased) commenters in an attempt to gauge readership's response (via clicks) so as to finalize a philsophical direction for the site. Thus far they are slowly driving away the original fight club membership.

In reply to by el buitre

nmewn Gaius Frakkin'… Tue, 08/08/2017 - 20:16 Permalink

I have no idea what Hitler and Mussolini thought in their heart of hearts but all the empirical evidence points to they needed warm bodies to place guns in their hands at the division level to replace master race dead. And it didn't much matter at that point if they were sandniggers, Ukrainians, Lithuanians or collectively...Slavs. A bullet doesn't really care what flesh it tears through, the bullet is an inanimate object ;-)

In reply to by Gaius Frakkin'…

nmewn Proctologist Tue, 08/08/2017 - 22:10 Permalink

Yeah, I've had thoughts along those lines big hand up our ass with different fingers moving around. As long as their other hand isn't reaching for my wallet or my gun I'm willing to listen to their voice...otherwise they can get their hand out of my ass.I kinda like analogies, no matter how gross or explicit ;-)

In reply to by Proctologist

New_Meat Gaius Frakkin'… Tue, 08/08/2017 - 20:50 Permalink

Dang, and here I thought that modern racial tribalism was part of the current agenda on various campi across the Fruited Plain.And I thought Communism was about the withering away of the State and the ascendency of the Proletariat and other stuff.Please, explain more, I am such an ignorant slob.- Ned{slob tonight, in fact, since I have BBQ sauce on my free tee-shirt after the great beef brisket we made}

In reply to by Gaius Frakkin'…

Canary Paint LindseyNarrate… (not verified) Tue, 08/08/2017 - 20:39 Permalink

Yeah...I hear you. I have a far more banal way to put it.A shit ton of us want to have enough extra cash after having paid our bills to buy particularly good cuts of meat for a BBQ every week or three. Then, we have those BBQs with our families and/or friends. If people in suits can't sort things out well enough that we can do that regularly, we will get cranky.A part of that is that we don't want some toothless asshole asking us for money for crack in the middle of the BBQ.Hint for turds in suits: Prevent that BBQs are less possible or make them more possible.Anyhting else probably makes you a scheming asshole.It is complicated, but it is also simple.

In reply to by LindseyNarrate… (not verified)

malek LindseyNarrate… (not verified) Tue, 08/08/2017 - 20:43 Permalink

Once again feels like Alice in Wonderland "I manage to write three impossible things in one paragraph, just for warming up!"

1. "fiscally-conservative" and "more Left-leaning socially"
Ahem you have to choose one over the other, snowflake.

2. "only believe in issues that I feel, truly, are intellectually-honest"
While not completely impossible, you would need to get more precise:
Starting with intellectual honesty yourself, try your best to understand others' viewpoints if they can explain them conclusively, but use your gut feeling to veto things that don't seem right ("Amygdala response") - that all is a possible and reasonable approach.

3. "not going to cause real harm, and/or un-intended consequences"
Absolutely everything also had a down-side, at least when done in excess. Which means everything you do, or decide towards, has a trade-off somewhere else.
And you should also understand that "un-intended consequences" is -for high-level deciders- very often only a plausible-denial approach for persuading others to accept the negative consequences of those deciders' decisions.

In summary your stance looks like utopia to me -
and if you are not aware THAT IS A VERY BAD THING because utopians most often steamroll dissenters (and I don't mean that only metaphorically.)

In reply to by LindseyNarrate… (not verified)

New_Meat LindseyNarrate… (not verified) Tue, 08/08/2017 - 19:42 Permalink

In anticipation of your favourable response, I suggest that the American Revolution is a good example, although there are others.

  • Roughly 1/3 of the colonists didn't really give a shit.
  • Roughly 1/3 were Royalists, somehow beholden monetarily or culturally (through family or the Church of England)
  • Roughly 1/3 were agin' the Crown for a variety of reasons.  Of that 1/3, perhaps 1/3 of them were active.


In reply to by LindseyNarrate… (not verified)

VWAndy Tue, 08/08/2017 - 19:08 Permalink

 Nope were buzy working. Dont have time to waste hitting people with bike locks or doin drum circles. Not buying the RINO shit either. 

nmewn Tue, 08/08/2017 - 19:19 Permalink

"This led to a prediction that "to win, Clinton must win >>>Sanders independents.<<< If she fails, she is likely to lose. The problem for Clinton is, how to do that."And indeed, Clinton did lose."WTF is this guy talking about?Burnie Marx supporters are "independents"...LMAO!!!

New_Meat Tue, 08/08/2017 - 19:45 Permalink

National Socialism is ... fucking Socialism.Fascism is ... fucking Stalinism.Assface wrote this thing[ed.] Uncle Sugar chained to the ball by all of that shit?  Yep, I'd buy that.

Rebelrebel7 (not verified) Tue, 08/08/2017 - 19:50 Permalink

There is absolutely an American center! There simply aren't any centrist politicians! It's why half of Americans don't even bother to vote!As far as the Nordic model, it is completely reliant upon oil revenues and predatory international banking, which are 2 policies in total contradiction with those who support the Nordic model.As far as fixing healthcare, 2/3 of prescription spending is spent on psychiatric drugs which have not only been proven not to work, but have severe health risks!……. The education system, the university system in particular is a total farce and free for all for the elite establishment! America is more "educated ", unemployed, impoverished, drug addicted, depressed, uncivilized, and incompetent than in  any time in history! No thanks! We've had enough of the ivy league, ivory tower, works on paper, but not on reality bullshit! Americans should unite around issues that we can all agree upon. These issues are all ignored by the establishment elites of the neocons and neoliberals.1.We must repeal the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 and abolish the Federal Reserve. Congress must resume its responsibility and coin money and regulate its value as granted to Congress in Article 1 Section 8 Clause 5 of the constitution. There would be no need for income, estate, capital gains,  or corporate taxes, and no need to reduce spending! The government could create the money required to fund it debt free! If we pay off the national debt,  we destroy the money supply and the economy, since the money supply is based on government debt! During the middle ages in England, when the banks did not issue currency and England used the tally system, the average man provided everything necessary for his family by working 16 weeks a year! The rest of the time was spent learning, traveling,  on the arts, and volunteering for the church!  2.The military should be used for defending our borders. We should close the 698 permanent foreign military bases and 400 temporary military bases. Our international meddling is jeopardizing national and international security, human life, and economic prosperity. We should retract from all war on foreign soil. 3. The prison industrial complex and the war on drugs must end. It is a horrific human rights abuse and is completely unacceptable. 4. All laws which violate the Bill of Rights must be immediately repealed. The NDAA, The Patriot Act, HR6393, The American Freedom Act are all grotesque unconstitutional violations of the 4th amendment.   5. Freedom of speech and of the press , and  the right to assemble, must be protected.  The government has removed the common thread that wove the fabric of our nation, our liberty, in a futile attempt to take the heat off of them, where it rightfully belongs, and to incite civil war, leaving corruption as usual in charge!

Faeriedust Tue, 08/08/2017 - 19:48 Permalink

So, are we supposed to believe that the REPUBLICAN PARTY doesn't pursue "money rather than voters"?  Or that it is any more in favor than the DNC of taxing the rich, capping and subsidizing health care costs, and fixing the habitual use of our planet's air and water as open sewers?

pippi68 Tue, 08/08/2017 - 20:38 Permalink

This is ridiculous. Informal poll... how many of ZHers have taken the political compass test and ended up anywhere far from center? I scored in the libertarian right quadrant not far from the left/right axis and midway down the libertarian side of the authoritarian/libertarian axis. It just seems like people are far apart because a large portion of our electorate in the cities has bought so heavily into the identity politics our masters have employed to get us to bum fight. We are actually not that far apart ideologically. Finding an extreme authoritarian right person is not a simple task. However our so-called representatives are almost all the same--neolibcons who use identity politics and media propaganda to sow division so that they can commit their crimes while we remain distracted by bread and circuses. Antifa are far authoritarian left. But I believe most people in this country score somewhere near the center.

jughead pippi68 Tue, 08/08/2017 - 21:32 Permalink

little boxes, little boxes, all made of ticky-tacky and all look just the same.  I don't fit in neat little boxes. :-)Rather than confuse ourselves with all this nonsense, keep it simple...are you one of the good guys, or one of the bad guys?  There ain't no fucking middle ground or moral relativist bullshit.  I am totally cool with the notion that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter...but both can either be good or evil...there is no middle ground at that basic level.  Don't confuse one's politics for one's character. Good guys fight for bad ideologies and bad guys can fight for good ones...their cause is not their character.  People who have a hard time distinguishing between good and evil are, frankly, intellectually deficient. It's like they lack a critical sense of the obvious. 

In reply to by pippi68

DaveA Tue, 08/08/2017 - 21:14 Permalink

There are no religions or ideologies, only reproductive strategies, and they all fall on a spectrum from r to K, from rabbits to wolves, from quantity of offspring to quality of offspring. Projecting this onto politics, left-wingers think like rabbits and right-wingers think like wolves. The one-dimensional political spectrum and the clustering of "left-wing" and "right-wing" views is therefore not arbitrary but totally natural.

(It's best to avoid terms like "liberal" and "conservative" because liberals stop believing in liberty as soon as they get into power, and conservatives don't conserve anything for very long, giving token resistance to the latest left-wing nonsense while accepting all prior left-wing nonsense as holy writ. And the last flicker of libertarianism was snuffed out when Eric Raymond said religious people should be forced to bake cakes for gay weddings.)

jughead Tue, 08/08/2017 - 21:18 Permalink

what both parties are pursuing is statism - the supremecy of the state over the individual...and way too many individuals are buying into it due to dependency or just plain stupidity.