Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Unoccupied Middle

According to Gallup polling, conservatives outnumber liberals in the United States by more than 2:1. At least as of 2010 figures in which 42% of Americans self-identify as conservative ideologically and 20% self-identify as liberals. An additional 35% self-identify as moderate. It's really this middle ground that determines elections if they're motivated to vote. But this also represents the most conservative our country has been since Gallup began this polling in 1992. 

Rather than get into why this has happened, I'd rather think about what this means.

Republicans appear empowered after their 2010 midterm election win, which gave them control of the House of Representatives and a number of Governorships. In just a few short months since their swearing in in January 2011 they've accomplished a remarkable amount, at least on paper. Virtually none of their legislative actions have a hope of passing the Senate or being signed into law by the president, but they've had much more success at the state level where they've severely hampered worker's rights in Wisconsin and other places. 

I'm sure they'd argue this is what the voters sent them to Washington (and state capitols) to do. I'm sure some voters would agree with them. Where I think they'll run into trouble is that many other voters did not. 

But the GOP appears to be rushing headlong toward a more conservative position. The expected passage of Paul Ryan's budget plan for 2011, which would cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations while turning Medicare into a voucher system, is a conservative's wet dream.

Add to that recent polling that has Donald Trump handily leading the pack of potential 2012 GOP presidential nominees with 23% of likely Republican voters saying that they will not vote for anyone who is not a birther, it's pretty clear the that GOP has shifted hard right. 

Very hard right. 

This is an opportunity for President Obama and the Democrats. All they need to do to be successful in 2012 and beyond is to step into that middle ground that's been nearly completely abandoned by Republicans. 

President Obama has begun his move in this direction by both going along with the extension of the Bush tax cuts, which while it did not raise taxes for the wealthy, it also kept taxes lower for the rest of us. His own $4 Trillion deficit reduction plan, which he announced this week is also much more moderate than that proposed by Ryan. In the case of Obama's budget proposal, he's got both conservatives and liberals upset, which suggests it got it just right. 

The GOP has proven themselves adept at controlling the message (remember the death panels and other nonsense about health care reform), but they're going to have a hard time spinning their recent actions into something moderates will buy into. The longer the Tea Party and Birthers dominate the polling for the GOP nominee for president, the harder right the electable Republican hopefuls will need to shift. And the harder time they'll have beating a president who is stepping in behind them into the big empty middle ...

A middle devoid of Republicans, but not devoid of voters. 

Six months ago I thought Obama was extremely vulnerable for re-election. The longer things go on like this and the further right the GOP pushes things, the easier time he'll have winning 4 more years. 

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