Examining The Artificial Divide Of Political Ideology And Polarization In The 2018 Midterms
The Middle, or at least the moderate and centrist factions within the Democratic Party, had a noticeable impact on the post-2018 Midterm Elections dialogue. With Democrats recapturing the House of Representatives, yet failing to retake control of the Senate, moderates and centrists were able to push the notion that Democrats had a faulted victory. They, in turn, placed blame on the Party’s pivot to the Left. Although Democrats faced structural hurdles that gave Republicans strong advantages in 2018, thus they did achieve a decent victory, it is also true that Democrats did not attract enough support to overcome those structural advantages. Interpreting 2018 alongside the 2016 Presidential Election, during which Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton failed to clinch the electoral vote in addition to the popular vote, it is clear that voters are not fully satisfied with their Democratic or Republican choices. There is no broad-base support of either. Zack Beauchamp of Vox has written a rather compelling analysis that refutes the idea that the Left is to blame. As he correctly concluded, election performance is much more complicated than ideology.
Due to the influence of personal bias, moderates and centrists are more likely to embrace arguments that favor their moderate and centrist views. It is, therefore, favorable for the Middle to interpret the 2018 Midterms as a consequence of ideological polarization. Unfortunately, election results do not capture what voters truly want or do not want in candidates. Those who win are simply the best option for a majority of voters within a district. Even a far-Left or far-Right candidate can win in a moderate and/or centrist district, especially when there are no moderate options. Strong voter turn against the established candidate or ruling political party can demonstrate dissatisfaction with the status quo. Alternatively, strong voter turn out in favor of a candidate or a political party can demonstrate a preference for that candidate and political party, but voters must be surveyed to understand why they specifically voted for or against a specific candidate. Surveys are helpful when determining the best-fit-candidate for a district, yet offer limited insights when it comes to election outcomes, especially when it comes to the macroscopic analysis of national elections dominated by power politics.
With that in mind, it is important to recognize the ideological divide is a creation of the political industry. Decades ago, the leaders of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party decided they wanted to give voters a more distinct choice. Instead of choosing between a moderate Democrat and a moderate Republican, Democrats started running candidates who leaned more and more to the Left while Republicans started running candidates who leaned more and more to the Right. In other words, they started forcing voters to choose between radical liberals and radical conservatives instead of finding candidates who truly reflected the views and interests of constituents. What they did was attempt to divide the electorate along political ideology. The extreme polarization seen in US politics is, therefore, both a creation of the political elite as well as a construct of their thinking. The orientations of candidates and political parties as organizations embody this ideological divide, but the American People are not so neatly split along this ideological divide.
No one is fully “liberal” or “conservative.” Individuals have liberal, centrist, and conservatives views on some issues as well as conservative, centrist, and liberal views on others. The simple truth is that not all ideological issues fall on the same side of the ideological spectrum. A social conservative, for example, would likely be against abortion, but a judicial conservative would be against curtailing the right to an abortion. In the 1980’s, Ronald Reagan unified the conservative factions under the Conservative identity, the political union was based on unsustainable compromises, the political appeal of the President, and a drive to unseat Democrats. Not only do individuals have their own unique political ideologies and ideological issues fall on different parts of the political spectrum, liberalism and conservatism are not diametric opposites. In its purest form, liberalism is just a preference for increased individual rights and conservatism is just a preference for established practices. Despite the alleged ideological divide, Republicans continue to have a liberal wing in the form of Libertarians while Democrats continue to field moderate to conservative-leaning candidates.
For many voters, voting is an issue of identity politics. These voters will always limit their choices to those who embrace the same political party, political ideology, and/or cultural identity. For those voters who swing elections, voting is an issue of changing the political system. As the Beauchamp article concluded, Democrats would not have likely performed better had they fielded more moderate and centrist candidates in the 2018 Midterms instead of liberal-leaning candidates. It is for the same reason that voters would not have been more satisfied with Democrats had they won more seats or retaken the Senate. The same can, of course, be said about Republicans in 2016, 2014, and 2012. The US political system is defined by power politics. Swing voters are forced to choose between Democrats and Republicans when neither self-polarized political party offers them honest representation. It is why US elections keep yielding results that bounce control of government back and forth between the two political poles. Until political parties start fielding candidates who better represent their would-be constituents, instead of party agendas, they will not satisfy voters enough to maintain control of government.
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