Columnist Laurie Roberts of The Arizona Republic truly, madly deeply wants to believe in mythical moderate Republican unicorns. Over the years she has published numerous columns assuring us that they really do exist, it’s just that not one has actually been elected in quite some time.
Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post puts this foolish fantasy to rest in This astonishing chart shows how moderate Republicans are an endangered species:
Political scientists have known for years that political polarization is largely a one-sided phenomenon: in recent decades the Republican Party has moved to the right much faster than Democrats have moved to the left. As Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution has described it, “Republicans have become a radical insurgency—ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of their political opposition.”
The data backing this claim up are pretty solid. The most widely-used measure of political polarization, a score of ideology based on voting developed by Kenneth Poole and Howard Rosenthal, has shown that the Republicans in the Senate and especially the House have drifted away from the center far more rapidly than Democrats. The chart below, taken from the most recent slice of their data released just last month, illustrate this pretty clearly:
Right around 1975, the Republican party sharply turned away from the center line and hasn’t looked back. The Democrats have been drifting away from the center too, but nowhere near as quickly.
Every once in awhile an op-ed writer will come along and make a qualitative argument along the lines of “no, really, it’s the Democrats who are polarizing!” Peter Wehner, a former official in three previous Republican presidential administrations, did just that in the pages of the New York Times last week [a classic example of psychological projection]. His argument amounts to the notion that since President Obama has pursued some policies that are more liberal than Bill Clinton’s, “the Democratic Party has moved substantially further to the left than the Republican Party has shifted to the right.”
Well, no — just look at the chart above! Here’s another way of looking at it: How many moderates are in each party? Here’s another interesting chart from the Poole-Rosenthal data, showing the number of House members in each party who are not centrists — that is, whose ideological scores put them on the more extreme ends of the partisan scale.
As you can see, in the most recent Congress nearly 90 percent of Republican House members are not politically moderate. By contrast, 90 percent of Democratic members are moderates. It’s quite difficult to square a chart like this with a claim that Democrats are abandoning the center faster than Republicans. As the chart shows, there are plenty of centrist Democrats left in the House — but hardly any centrist Republicans.
It’s worth pointing out that none of this is happening in a vacuum — House Republicans are become more extreme because Republican voters are electing more extreme candidates. We see many of these same patterns playing out among the electorate as well, as a massive Pew Research Study demonstrated last year.
Democratic Party positions on issues are the moderate/centrist/populist/majority position, as borne out in new polling data today. A new New York Times/CBS News poll finds:
— 85 percent of Americans favor requiring employers to offer paid sick leave.
— 80 percent favor requiring employers to offer paid leave to parents of new children.
— 71 percent support raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
— 68 percent support raising taxes on those making more than $1 million per year.
— 66 percent say money and wealth in this country should be more evenly distributed among more people.
— 57 percent say government should do more to reduce the gap between rich and poor.
— 55 percent oppose “fast track” authority to negotiate international trade deals.
So the next time you see or hear some lazy media villager recite the tired old cliches about the “extremists on the left and right,” “both sides do it,” and ” a pox on both their houses,” know that this lazy media villager doesn’t have a clue what he or she is talking about. We have a centrist party in this country — the Democratic Party — and the Republican Party has become the radical insurgency party, as Thomas Mann observed.