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Last updateThu, 19 Nov 2015 8pm

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When there is no middle ground in politics

There is, or at least there was, an old rule of thumb when it came to national politics. It wasn’t particularly formal, but I heard it repeated enough, and saw it validated enough, that it seemed like a pretty good generalization.  The rule dealt with the size and loyalty of the Democratic and Republican base. Namely, that roughly 35% of the voters can be guaranteed to support one party while another 35%, give or take, will support the other party. That took care of about 70% of the voters. However, the remainder, roughly 30%, though some might lean one way or the other, were the independents, and were the votes both parties fought for during the general election.  

However, this year, while that rule may still be in play, the independents seem to have allied themselves early with one side or the other. And it’s having some disturbing effects on the campaign. Both candidates, in polls that don’t ever seem to change, have roughly 46% to 47% of the vote. The number, and the tightness of the race, hasn’t varied much for weeks.  

One indicator of how tight this race is, and how hard it is to move these numbers, is that neither candidate experienced a “convention boost.” This is the bump up in the polls that almost all candidates get after their party’s convention. Some have said that the Republican Convention boost was cancelled out by the Democratic Convention boost that followed the week after.  

This is possible, but it’s just as likely that neither side received a boost because so many people have already made up their minds. 

The unfortunate result is that each campaign, in its own way, has taken to a strategy of focusing on a specific part of the electorate and a limited set of issues. To secure his base, Mitt Romney has anchored himself solidly to the conservative wing of his party. His choice of Paul Ryan, one of the conservative movement’s most intellectual voices, sealed the deal. Romney’s strategy from this point on is to hold the base, which he seems to be doing, and then run on the economy to pull together a majority.   

President Obama’s strategy, with a variation or two, isn’t all that different.  He is focusing on the Democratic party base, which means stressing liberal issues such as the Affordable Healthcare Act, aid to education, gay rights, and federal support for infrastructure improvements. However, he is also working hard to maintain his edge with women voters where he has a substantial edge over Romney. His positions on abortion and education, for the most part, help him in this regard. Finally, looking for an edge over his opponent, he is trying to paint his opponent as an out of touch candidate of the far right. Obama’s victory strategy is a bit more complicated, his base is more diverse, but his campaign is almost as focused as Romney’s.

Unfortunately, while the base of each party seems satisfied, the liberal wing of the Democratic party is happy, and the GOP conservatives are too, no one, alas, seems all that interested in looking for the middle ground. It could be argued that this might be a way to move these stagnant poll numbers, but so far, no one seems to be taking that on as a strategy.  

In most Presidential campaigns, particularly in the closing weeks, while there is always a need to hold the base, there is often an effort to reach out for the independents. This is usually a moderating factor that many consider healthy in our American politic al process. However, this year, no one is calling for working with the other side, compromise, or cooperation. That appears to have been the first casualty of this campaign. Another is the discussion of the issues and of ideas. Some claim this campaign is an opportunity to debate two different views on the role of government. It probably is, and it’s a nice thought, and I am still hopeful this campaign might morph into something better, but so far, there doesn’t seem to be much of a debate going on at all. There is stridency, accusation, and pandering to each party’s political edge, but as for any real debate on the role of government, or a discussion of the issues, that seems to be in unusually short supply. 

You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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