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The Radical Middle

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The proportion of American voters who identify themselves as independents is at its highest level in 70 years, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. More people now call themselves independents ? roughly 40% – than either Democrats or Republicans.

In every presidential election for the past 20 years and in key congressional races that have involved a turnover of the majority control of Congress, it has been these key independent, moderate, swing voters who have decided the outcome. And their influence and power on the political process can only be expected to grow in the next few years.

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I call these voters the radical middle because they are disappointed in the way government and the political parties have been running things and they want a change.

In essence, most of these key moderate voters are fiscally conservative and socially progressive. They want the government to stay out of their personal lives but they want Congress and the president to spend their tax dollars wisely.

Most of these independents were functioning Democrats in 2006 and 2008 but now they are trending more to the right of center. They are concerned about fiscal matters and they are up for grabs, according to a number of pollsters.

According to an October ABC/Washington Post poll, 57% of Americans say avoiding a big increase in the federal budget deficit is more important than increasing federal spending to improve the economy. A September Bloomberg poll found 62% saying they “would be willing to risk a longer-lasting recession to avoid more government spending.”

Most Americans are not staunch Republicans or Democrats but rather decide things issue by issue. An overwhelming majority of Americans, 60 percent, want leaders who take a mix of conservative and liberal positions.

According to Pew more than half of Americans (52%) say the U.S. should have a third major political party. But among independents ? a whopping 70% say the U.S. needs a third major political party and 63% of Americans under the age of 30 support the idea of a third political party.

It can be argued that the Democratic and Republican Parties are further to the left and right and further apart in ideology now than at any time since the early 20th Century and those in the middle are feeling left out.

Moderates in both parties now account for only about 10% of the members of the House and Senate but they can have disproportionate power and impact on legislation because they represent the key swing votes needed to get anything passed. Undoubtedly, the final look of the health care legislation in the Senate will be shaped by key moderate members.

Self identified moderate and independent voters don’t tend to give money to candidates or stay involved in the political process between elections so their only way to express themselves is at the ballot box.

Which means both Democrats and Republicans had better be listening to this group if they want to be successful in the coming elections.

Whichever party wants to be in control of Congress and the presidency is going to have to pay very close attention to what these voters want.

2009-11-22 00:00:00

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