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Politics is Designed to Alienate Most Americans
America’s political discourse is dominated by hard partisans, while most Americans occupy a less certain middle ground.
Examining new data from The Economist/YouGov we see further evidence of the seriously imbalanced nature of modern politics. Using a series of questions about partisan identification, only 23 percent of Americans identify as “strong Democrats” and even fewer, 21 percent, identify as “strong Republicans”. The rest of America is distributed between strict independents (15 percent) and a big pool of less committed voters who begrudgingly make a move one way or the other since they’re only given two party choices, if that, in nearly every election.
Ideologically, less than 1 in 10 Americans self-identify as “very liberal” while just 12 percent label themselves “very conservative”. In contrast, a plurality of Americans (34 percent) identifies as moderate and a roughly similar proportion as either plain liberal (15 percent) or conservative (20 percent), with another 1 in 10 not sure what they are ideologically.
The unfortunate reality in American democracy today is that most of us lack ideological consistency and hard partisanship but our politics and media coverage are designed specifically to amplify hardline ideological positions and rhetoric from both Democrats and Republicans.
You see this is in absurd talk about a new “civil war” in America and in the increasingly zero-sum cultural battles between red states and blue states. You see it in hard factions of the left and right going after “counterrevolutionaries” in their own party and refusing to stomach any compromise with the other side while employing over-the-top rhetoric about fascism and treason from those who don’t go along. You see it in more normal politicians in either party refusing to criticize obvious excesses of their own side, even when these excesses turn violent or clearly stand at odds with the common-sense views of most Americans.
These modern political battles do not reflect a 50-50 nation equally divided between two clear paths for the country. These battles are what you get when a two-party system allows small but powerful minority factions on both sides to determine the course of politics at the expense of everyone else who is less certain about things and more willing to deviate from pre-determined party lines. Instead of trying to build a productive way forward on issues where broad consensus exists, you get irrational ideological conflict waged under partisan banners.
There is no clear way out of this predicament given hard-to-change electoral laws, legacy media coverage that obsesses about partisanship, and increasingly disconnected-from-reality social media. Committed citizens not in thrall to any one ideology therefore need to create their own model of politics—separate from the forced binaries that distort contemporary politics.
We believe in equal dignity and rights for all people. We believe in a strong and prosperous America with ample jobs, decent pay, and secure families—in all places. We believe in standing up for America’s economic and security interests in the world and working with other countries to address common challenges on public health, the environment, poverty, and terrorism.
We reject discrimination of any kind. We reject pitting people against one another based on race, gender, or religion. We reject viewing political opponents, and other Americans, as enemies to be defeated rather than as fellow citizens worthy of engaging and debating respectfully. We reject corruption and poor governance, and we favor a government that delivers tangible improvements in the lives of all Americans carried out in an effective and transparent manner.
Our goals for America: Good jobs and decent pay for all people. American workers and businesses first. Financial security and safety for all families. Equal rights and liberties for everyone. Politics focused on solutions and the common good rather than ideological grandstanding.
This is just one values system and approach among many that need to be developed—some center-left, some center-right, some libertarian, some more social democratic in outlook.
The only way out of America’s dysfunctional two-party, minoritarian politics is to build an alternative system based on pluralism rather than conformity, ideological diversity, and institutions independent of the two parties that better represent the complicated views of Americans.
Despite the beliefs of partisan activists, one party or ideological approach will not vanquish all the others in our democracy. We must find ways to respect the variety of American opinions and work cooperatively—both within and outside of the two main parties—to overcome seemingly intractable problems rather than digging in deeper in a futile quest for partisan domination.