Two Different Studies Paint an Interesting Picture of America
I. Something New, Something Old
I read an interesting, and rather upbeat, article this week by two writers who spent several months and over 20,000 miles of travel talking to Americans. These two fellows came from different starting points. One is a conservative, the other liberal. Part of the purpose of their journey was to see if each could come to a better understanding of the other’s perspective. I will tell you up front, that they largely succeeded in that goal. https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/08/06/americans-more-united-than-our-political-rhetoric-indicates-column/3297493001/
They still disagreed on a lot but came to understand why they differed and found some room to respect the other viewpoint. Please note this was a discussion about policy and philosophy. No one tried to defend Donald Trump. That would have made for a short trip.
They made a real effort to talk to a wide range of Americans – by region, by age, by political inclination. What they found was something of a pleasant surprise. They found that pretty well everywhere they went, people were a lot less divided than they expected. They certainly had differing views, but they found people remarkably tolerant of different views. Many recognized that reasonable people could disagree on important issues. They were not especially interested in demonizing The Others.
It’s Not All Cookie Cutter Simple Out There
Some had surprising mixes of views internally. One interview stands out as an example. The individual being interviewed was wearing a MAGA t-shirt and generally was pro Trump. But when asked what he thought our greatest threat was he said climate change. He thought this could end everything and Trump was wrong on this one. Surprise!
The single most encouraging thing they found was a hunger for civility and desire for leadership that seeks to unite us rather than divide us. This was an almost universal finding in their travels. Not to be too optimistic here, but this bodes well. The potential seems to be there to live up to the E Pluribus Unum thing we have been carrying around. Let’s hope.
II. Independent Voters
I have talked about the problematic nature of unaffiliated and independent voters before. I have not changed my views. For the most part, this stance strikes me as the lazy person’s path. I get it that both parties can be irritating, but not working through party structures yields the kind of ill disciplined, extremist politicians that now dominate what used to be the Republican party.
Still, this represents a lot of voters these days and an analysis by Pew done last year is illuminating. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/05/15/facts-about-us-political-independents/?utm_source=Pew+Research+Center&utm_campaign=1768dd5c96-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_05_16_06_56&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3e953b9b70-1768dd5c96-399704621
It turns out that the vast majority of unaffiliated voters almost always vote with one major party or the other. A quite small percentage actually swap around very much. The majority of unaffiliated voters tend to be younger voters. That is not surprising.
If you grew up in the period around the last great recession, got “educated” by a second-rate private college, or found your economic future tied to gig work, you can be forgiven for not having a lot of confidence in institutions, including political parties. In turns out that most unaffiliated voters are also male. I have no clue why that is or what that may mean.
What Does All This Mean?
I expect that what all this means is that the parties would do well to focus on bringing in to vote those unaffiliated voters that normally vote for them. Ensure they have a reason to show up at the polls, since party loyalty will not do the trick. Otherwise, many of them will simply sit out the election. A few will vote third party or cross to the other party.
The Democrats have the more interesting challenge on this round in that they have more balancing to do. They need to fire up their base, find connectivity that works with both party centrists and leftists, and offer some appeal to moderate independents who voted for Trump last time but now see the error of that choice.
The Republicans have a small base that will vote for anything Trump tells them to. For the rest of the electorate, they can try to minimize national issues and try to distance individual candidates from Trump. Good luck with that.
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