Bipartisanship: Independents Couldn't Care Less
by Jason Williams, Thu Nov 18, 2010 at 01:43:25 PM EST
Writers at The Democratic Strategist have embarked on a breakdown of the composition of the 2010 electorate, questioning the oft-repeated, little supported meme that Democrats lost big on Nov 2 for moving "too far left," against an electorate moving center-right.
Connecting two of the most recent posts on Ruy Teixeira's data crunching conclusions offers a glimpse at the reality slaughtered by what is passing elsewhere for post-election analysis.
First, Andrew Levinson on the shift of "moderates" to "conservative":
During the early, pre-9/11 era, not all of George W Bush's supporters considered themselves conservatives. Many considered themselves moderates. They would express this by saying things like "I usually vote Republican but I consider myself a political moderate and not a hard-core conservative. In 1992 I supported Bush senior, in 1996 I supported Bob Dole and In 2000 I supported George W. Bush because he seemed like a moderate too".
Since Obama's election, however, as the political debate has become deeply polarized with charges of socialism and fascism leveled against Obama, these same people can no longer accurately express their feelings about politics by calling themselves "moderate Republicans". They are now more likely to use the word conservative to describe themselves rather than moderate because the latter term does not adequately convey a clear rejection of Obama's agenda. In actual conversation this "moderate Republican now turned conservative" view is expressed in phrases like "Oh, I'm not a tea party person but I'm really a pretty conservative person in a lot of ways, you know, and I just don't support a lot of those these things Obama's doing."
Second, Ed Kilgore on "true independents":
...true independents tend to vote against the party in power when the economy is bad, regardless of the perceived ideology or partisanship of the party in power. It happened in 2006 and it happened again in 2010. Arguing, as some have done, that the answer for Democrats is to "move to the center" and find some way to work with Republicans makes sense only if such steps contribute to an improvement in the performance of the economy. If they don't, then it's not the right direction to take, particularly if you consider the costs in terms of sacrificing progressive policy goals and making the Democratic elements of the electorate unhappy precisely on the eve of the cycle when they can be expected to return to the polls.
The two takeaways here:
Despite the self applied "moderate" label, these "shifting" voters were just Republicans by another name. At some point, they simply stopped labeling themselves "moderate." The change from "middle" to "right" happened in poll responses, not voting habits, and within the confines of Republican voters, not the electorate at large.
Second, "true" independents don't care about bipartisanship, the process, or (surprise!) even intra-party leadership battles. Many of them fail to even identify policy as Democratic or Republican policies. They identify policy as effective (something changed for me) or ineffective (nothing changed for me).
Overall ideology hasn't changed much in the past few years, and it's important to understand, especially as a challenge to the idea that the midterms were a warning for Democrats to tack right in response.
So no evidence of a shift in the electorate, and the swing-voters of 2012 will be just like the swing-voters of every election. They don't care if the parties work together, and they certainly don't care if the Obama alienates his base in order to prove his commitment to bipartisan policy. What they care about, as always, are the policies that brought results.
Kilgore quotes The Monkey Cage's John Sides:
Here's a counterfactual to ponder. What if Obama and the Democratic Congress had rammed through a $2 trillion stimulus, failing to garner a single GOP vote, but then the stimulus somehow reduced unemployment to 6%? Do you think independents would be offended by the lack of bipartisanship?
Nope, they'd be singing the Democrats' praises, all the way to the 2012 voting booths.