Moderates not “Liberals in Disguise,” According to New Report co-authored by Harvard Kennedy School’s Elaine Kamarck

Contact: Doug Gavel
Phone: (617) 495-1115
Date: February 23, 2011

The critical role played by moderate voters and lawmakers in American political life is the focus of a new report co-authored by Harvard Kennedy School Lecturer Elaine Kamarck. “The Still-Vital Center: Moderates, Democrats and the Renewal of American Politics” was released today by the Washington D.C.-based think-tank Third Way. It is co-authored by William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution.

In the report, Galston and Kamarck argue that moderates are an essential ingredient of any governing coalition; they dispute the belief that moderates are merely “Liberals in disguise;” and they call for reforms that would remedy moderates’ structural under-representation in our political system.

Among their findings:

  • President Obama’s election was not just the result of liberal mobilization but rested on winning a super-majority of moderates.
  • Moderates comprise the plurality of voters in every state – ranging from 46% in Rhode Island (the nation’s most liberal state) to 62% in Nebraska.
  • Since 1976, the Democratic Party has never elected a President without winning at least 60% of the major-party moderate vote.
  • Moderates etch a distinctive political ideology with beliefs and preferences that diverge from those of the Democratic and Republican bases. They are center-left on social issues, middle of the road on economics, center-right on foreign policy and are more skeptical about government than are voters to their left.
  • In addition, The Still-Vital Center points to structural problems in the current political process that lead to political polarization and extremism. To cure these problems, Galston and Kamarck propose three major reforms: Reforming the primary system to level the playing field and discourage extremism; Ending gerrymandering; and Electing the Speaker of the House of Representatives by a super-majority vote of Congress, which would force the Congressional leadership to reach across the aisle and be more likely to produce bipartisan legislation.

This paper is the latest in a series of reports from the Domestic Policy Program’s moderate politics project, which has already had significant impact in shaping the conversation around the importance of moderates to American politics.

“Galston and Kamarck’s report is an essential contribution to the emerging politics of the center,” said Third Way’s Domestic Policy Program Director Anne Kim. “Moderate politics are not a flash in the pan—they’re here to stay. This report explains why.”

“America is at war and in recession,” said Kamarck, “In times like these we need a political system that produces real, long-lasting solutions to problems. The current system is failing us and needs reform.”

Galston added, “Moderates are a distinct group in American politics and society. Our report shows that both political parties need to take them into account and that our political system would work better if it more fully reflected their views.”

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