Each election cycle, politicians and pundits alike dedicate countless hours to debating the beliefs of “moderate” voters, with some even claiming an exact definition for the elusive voting bloc.
“Moderation is not … just finding the midpoint between two opposing poles and opportunistically planting yourself there,” The New York Times’ David Brooks wrote amidst the debates of the 2012 election. “Moderates start with a political vision, but they get it from history books, not philosophy books.”
According to Brooks, who authoritatively titled his article “What Moderation Means,” moderates not only base their views on the lessons of history, but they also “revere the fact that we are a nation of immigrants dedicated to the American dream — committed to the idea that each person should be able to work hard and rise.”
So, it's fair enough to suggest that moderates (or centrists, as some prefer to call them) take their cues from history, but according to such an ideology, what's the actual role the government should play in that "American dream," and is the government required to level the playing field for those who wish to work their way up?
A new study by Democratic-leaning think tank Third Way, which strives to promote what it believes to be more centrist policies, seeks to find the answers to these questions and more.
“Moderates refuse to be put in an ideological box,” researchers Michelle Diggles and Lanae Erickson Hatalsky wrote on Third Way’s website, echoing the views of Brooks' definition of the demographic. “They develop positions and perspectives at odds with both liberals and conservatives.”
According to their study, titled “State of the Center,” Third Way found that when it comes to matters of government involvement, moderates are most likely to answer the question “do you favor a larger government providing more services or a smaller government providing fewer services,” with “I do not think of government in those terms” or “I don’t know.”
Such a response possibly plays into a point brought up in an article in The Washington Post by Christopher Hare and Keith T. Poole, which contends that “moderates possess lower levels of political information and are less likely to be politically engaged than those who are closer to one of the ideological poles.”
But when asked more pointed questions, such as “which concerns you more, the government not doing enough for the economy or the government becoming too involved in the economy,” the moderates surveyed had a far more distinct response.
Fifty-three percent of moderate responders answered that they were more concerned with the government not doing enough for the economy, compared to only 40 percent who were worried about too much government involvement.
The study also shows that 33 percent of moderates believe that government involvement “often goes wrong,” and 37 percent think the government is “often an obstacle to economic growth and opportunity.”
On both of these issues, the Third Way poll suggests that moderates lean more conservative, but the margin of opposing views within their demographic is much smaller than either conservatives or liberals.
“While liberals think Congressional Democrats are too moderate and conservatives say the same about Congressional Republicans, moderates think both parties are too ideological,” Diggles and Hatalsky wrote. They conclude that the defining factor in the moderate point-of-view is not a lack of interest, but a distaste with “ideological wings.”
“Moderate voters remain engaged in politics,” they said, “even as they express concerns over the current divisiveness of many political discussions.”