from the WSJ, Moderate Voters, Polarized Parties;
Political scientist Morris Fiorina contends that the parties do not represent the will of the voters:
“We have these two now cohesive, different parties,” he says. Democrats and Republicans today are as ideologically distinct as “the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats in Europe at the height of their power in the 20th century. And the problem is, we’ve got a much more heterogeneous country, and there’s only two of them, and they just don’t fit the electorate.”
He arrives with a PowerPoint presentation that visualizes the data behind his theory. A pair of bar graphs show the ideological distribution of lawmakers in the 87th Congress (1961-63) and the 111th (2009-11). In both eras Democrats were the liberal party and Republicans the conservative one. But the pattern is markedly different: In 1961-63, both parties’ lawmakers tended to cluster in the middle. In 2009-11, there were two clusters—Democrats to the left, Republicans to the right. “There’s no longer any overlap at all,” Mr. Fiorina says. “The center is empty. That hasn’t happened in the electorate.”
A line graph illustrates the electorate’s continuity. The share of Americans identifying as politically moderate has remained fairly constant—around 40%, and usually a plurality—since at least 1974. In the same period, another chart shows, independents overtook Democrats as the biggest partisan grouping. As the parties drifted from the ideological middle, centrist voters disaffiliated from the parties.
I am not sure if the cause and effect are clear here. The parties have been hobbled by two trends. The first is to make the parties more democratic in the nominating process. This has removed the moderating control of party leaders and empowered more populist leaders like Sanders and Trump. Appealing to the center of the electorate becomes a less certain path to the nomination. The center is a minority of both parties, but remains a larger factor in the final contest.
The second trend is that Super Pacs are independent of party discipline and are more aligned with special interests than the voting center. So far they still use the machinery of the party since our system handicaps any effort outside the two major parties. Other wise Super Pacs could become defacto political parties.
I do not think the problem is being too ideological. It may be the opposite- being so pragmatic that ideology is shunned, or compromised to the point of meaningless. It could also be the failure of bad ideology.
At some point ideology does matter. sound ideology must yield results but also requires commitment and patience. This requires the clarity of leadership that can balance ideology and pragmatism. Pragmatism without ideology is a an unmoored ship that will eventually crash on the rocks. Having a sound ideology, while acknowledging its imperfections, is a map that assures that detours do not become destinations.