The mythical moderate Republican unicorns do not exist


Screenshot-14Columnist 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.


  1. According to the chart, the Democrats are further to the left now than they were in the ’60’s and were further to the left under Clinton than they were under Carter. The obvious flaw is that “center” is defined relatively, according to whatever is the narrow political (as opposed to the much wider ideological) spectrum. Pretty sloppy, but I’ve never thought that much of the vaunted Wonkblog, either before or after the departure of Ezra Klein.

    • In the 1960’s you had the Dixiecrat segregationists, and in the 1970’s you had the boll weevil Southern conservatives. That Southern conservative base has now disappeared entirely and become Republicans. The remaining New Democrat/Third Way/Blue Dog “conservadem” Democrats were only reduced in numbers in elections since 2010. To borrow a cooking term, what is left is a reduction, “the process of thickening and intensifying the flavor” of the Democratic Party to its liberal progressive base.

  2. “Figures never lie, but liars always figure.”

    It is always interesting seeing the number and variations of polls, research, etc., that get you where you want to be. It gives a certain authority to your personal extremism. But your point is sort of lost because it really doesn’t matter if the Republicans are more extreme than Democrats or not. Other than the ineffectual name calling (which I know is very satisfying to your soul) you have no effect on them and they seem to be doing okay with or without your approval. I guess I am just curious what the point is for making an issue of it? It won’t change anything.

    • “Other than the ineffectual name calling (which I know is very satisfying to your soul) …” There is a classic case of psychological projection if there ever was one. You troll almost every post on this blog to attack the individual authors and anyone who post comments. You think pretty highly of your uninformed ignorance. Your narcissistic need to troll is truly disturbing.

      • When I read your accusation that I use name calling, I just about busted a gut laughing. It is hilarious that you – a writer who rarely writes ANYTHING that isn’t filled with name calling – should find fault with someone else whom you perceive to have done it. I rarely attack anyone…it just isn’t in my nature to do so. But I can understand that some of the recipients of my posts might be hypersensitive and feel that I did.

        In any event, thank you for a good laugh and a pleasant peek through the looking glass…

          • So, in addition to being a lawyer, are you also a psychologist/psychistrist? You are beginning to sound a lot like our friend, Dr. SUCHINDRAN CHATTERJEE, an expert in all things.

          • I bait you, and you take the bait, which only serves to prove my point. You are either too slow-witted to realize that you are being baited, or you are so compulsive that you cannot stop yourself from trolling. Either way, you have a problem. Get help or get lost.

          • Oh Goodness, you have such an inflated sense of yourself. What you said was hardly “baiting”. If you think it was, you need to put some more effort into developing your baiting skills…either that or look into what the term baiting actually means.

            However, I must admit I do enjoy trolling on blogs like this. It is fun to get into spirited discussions over issues that interest me and most of those discussions are without rancor or profanity. But there are always a couple of respondents that have problems controlling themselves. They provide a special sort of fun because they are so emotionally brittle and easily baited. You know what I mean?

        • Scolding people for their manners in public forum is attacking them. And it’s rude. Just so you know.

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