The establishment media loves the idea of a great American moderate political center, mostly because it would mean there is still a large market for their pathetic products that try for universal appeal in order to obtain eclectic advertising. Though for many of the media elite having influence is an end as well as a means to an end. Unfortunately for them, no such “center” exists and moderates are a statistical myth. There is, in fact, no third way.

The moderate or centrist voter, in theory, would be one who likes the status quo and would favor empty bipartisan gestures based on triangulating a position between the extremes of the left and the right. These moderates are what many politicians are instructed to appeal to. But according to a study from UC Berkeley, a careful reading of public opinion surveys shows those moderate people do not actually exist.

What happens, explains David Broockman, a political scientist at the University of California at Berkeley, is that surveys mistake people with diverse political opinions for people with moderate political opinions. The way it works is that a pollster will ask people for their position on a wide range of issues: marijuana legalization, the war in Iraq, universal health care, gay marriage, taxes, climate change, and so on. The answers will then be coded as to whether they’re left or right. People who have a mix of answers on the left and the right average out to the middle — and so they’re labeled as moderate…

The deeper point here is that the idea of the moderate middle is bullshit: it’s a rhetorical device meant to marginalize some policy positions at the expense of others. There’s no actual way to measure it, or consistent definition animating it, and it doesn’t spontaneously emerge in any of the data.

Finally. Yes, there are no moderate positions or people, there are simply orthodox and unorthodox positions. Those in a political party, especially one of the two major political parties, have an orthodoxy. Which is to say those partisans do not think independently, they espouse predigested views and promote those views trying, often successfully, to overtake unorthodox views and delegitimize them. This artificial consensus becomes “the mainstream.”

So while controlling the mainstream terms of debate is a power of its own, the actual electorate is not enthused about “moderate” bipartisan policies. Especially now that one of the major political parties, the GOP, has dragged the Democratic Party so far to the right. There is no “Grand Bargain” to be had because a great many are not on either side of the deal.

Photo by Metoc under Creative Commons license.