The Centrist Premium

For most of the last 30 years, self-described ideological moderates have comprised a plurality of the American electorate. While the share of moderates has dropped slightly in recent years, 38 percent of voters in 2010 still described themselves as such.

In Congress, on the other hand, moderates are decidedly—and increasingly—a minority. Among Democrats, the moderate New Democrat and Blue Dog Coalitions suffered heavy losses among their respective memberships in 2010 and are now outnumbered by their liberal counterparts in the Progressive Caucus. Among Republicans, moderate
members are an even rarer species. In fact, there are only 33 members of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership who are not also part of the 177-member conservative Republican Study Committee.

Analysts have offered up structural explanations—such as gerrymandering and the current political primary system—for why there aren’t more moderates in elected office to reflect America’s true ideological complexion. This paper looks at another structural disadvantage that moderate candidates and incumbents face: campaign finance.

For better or for worse, financing plays a major role in a candidate’s viability and success. Financing buys the ads and ability to raise a candidate’s profile, counter the opposition and turn out the vote. A hefty campaign war chest can be enough in itself to discourage potential rivals.

According to the Federal Election Commission, House Congressional races cost a grand total of nearly $1.1 billion in 2010—or $2.5 million per seat. Moreover, elections are becoming increasingly expensive. The spending in 2010 was nearly double the $563 million spent just a decade ago in 2000. But as this analysis shows, the burden of fundraising falls much more heavily on moderates. While it’s axiomatic in today’s politics that winning and keeping a seat is more expensive in “moderate” districts than in more reliably red or blue turf, this analysis provides a case study that quantifies just how much the “centrist premium” costs.

In particular, this analysis draws on Federal Election Commission data to compare the campaign expenditures made by Democratic candidates and their opponents in “moderate” versus “liberal” districts in the House. To avoid ideological judgment calls, self-selected members of the New Democrat and Blue Dog Coalitions and the Progressive Caucus were used as proxies for defining “moderate” and “liberal.”

Among the key findings:

1. Moderate Democrats and their opponents spent more than twice as much on their campaigns in 2010 as their counterparts in liberal districts. Blue Dogs, New Democrats
and their opponents spent an average of $3.3 million on their campaigns, compared to an average of $1.6 million spent by candidates and opponents in Progressive Caucus districts. Not only did moderate candidates spend more to defend their seats, they
faced better-financed challengers.

2. Moderate candidates were much more likely to draw outside spending in their districts. On average, outside groups spent a district-by-district average of $1.46 million in Blue Dog and New Democratic races, versus an average of just $257,000
on Progressive Caucus campaigns. With the inclusion of outside spending, the total cost of campaigning in moderate districts soars to an average per district of $4.76 million, compared to a grand total average of $1.87 million in liberal districts.

3. “Safer” moderate members still pay a premium. On the whole, veteran moderates spend less on their campaigns than newcomers. Nevertheless, among Blue Dog, New Democratic and Progressive candidates who won by similar margins, moderate
candidates and their opponents still outspent liberal candidates and their opponents by an average of almost $900,000.

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Who Really Abandoned Dems?

Via Politico

Conventional wisdom is hardening on two fronts in the aftermath of the election—among Democrats about how to regain power and among Republicans about what to do with it.

Many Democrats argue, and now believe, that disenchanted liberal base voters were the ones who stayed home and that this election was a referendum on the economy. Many Republicans, on the other hand, now believe their own press about a definitive, albeit tea party-tinged, mandate.

Conventional wisdom, it turns out, is wrong.

The Obama voters who stayed home this year (the “droppers”) or who switched their vote to Republican (the “switchers”) are neither disgruntled and de-motivated liberals. Nor are they raging tea partiers.

Rather, they are overwhelmingly moderate to moderate conservative. Bipartisanship is what they demand. And the role of government, deficits and the economy are their major concerns.

 

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What Democrats Need: A Moderate Surge

Via Politico

With the worries over an “ enthusiasm gap,” many Democrats are now contemplating a home-stretch election strategy focused on rousing the base. By carrying a left-leaning message, this argument goes, Democrats can reactivate liberal enthusiasm to equal the Tea Party’s passion.

A motivated base is indeed necessary if the Democrats are to keep their congressional majorities. But it’s not sufficient. In fact, in many of the most hotly contested Senate and House races, candidates who match President Barack Obama’s 2008 performance—as outstanding as it was—still won’t win.

In these races, the surge that Democrats need is not among liberals. They need moderate voters.

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Build wealth, not entitlements

Via Politico

For much of the 20th century, progressives put their political capital into building a safety net to protect Americans against market excesses. They aimed for economic security from cradle to retirement.

Today, many on the left say that health care reform is just one more step in this effort.

But it would be a mistake for Democrats to make expanding the entitlement state the defining goal in the 21st century as well.

Rather, they should focus on a new signature cause: policies that build national and individual wealth. For Democrats, who may be more familiar with how to cut up the pie than increase its size, this marks a significant shift.

 

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Making health reform work

Via Politico

With the passage of historic health care reform legislation, Democrats are rightly eager to explain what’s in the new law and ensure that Americans realize its immediate benefits. As Democrats see it, the more Americans learn the facts about reform, the more they will appreciate it.

But what could ultimately shape the public’s views are Americans’ direct experiences with reform. For better or for worse, health care reform — one of the greatest expansions of federal power in a half-century — occurred at a time of historically low trust in government. Opinion polls show barely one in five Americans believe the federal government does the right thing all or most of the time.

That means Democrats must now make the task of consumer-friendly reform its top priority.

The new reform bill is a carefully crafted and structurally elegant piece of legislation that could have profound impact on the security of middle-class Americans. It’s also legislation that demands the same degree of attention and detail in its implementation as it received in its drafting.

 

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The Rules for the Middle Class Have Changed

Via Politico

At the 2004 Democratic Convention, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts thought he was speaking to the middle class when he invoked Dave McCune, the steelworker who “saw his job sent overseas and the equipment in his factory literally unbolted, crated up and shipped thousands of miles away.” But on Election Day, Kerry lost middle-income voters by 6 points and the white middle class by a staggering 22 points.

Buried in this loss is a lesson for Democrats, the self-described party of the middle class. Democrats are correct in thinking that the middle class is anxious. But they have habitually lost middle-income voters because they misunderstand the sources of that anxiety. And what they offer in response seems out of touch with average people’s lives.

 

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