Political generals, like any other type of strategist, should always strive to avoid fighting the last war. The new NBC News/Esquire polling project on the “American Center” provides a fascinating look at our fast-changing political landscape.
America’s political terrain is changing both in demographics and in the way voters view our politics. First, throw out the old labels we’ve used to describe politics for years. The fissure points in American politics are far more complicated than red, purple and blue.
As the NBC News/Esquire data shows, the “center” itself is far from monolithic – voters within it disagree on many issues. Still, certain themes do run clearly through this new research on the American Center.
Center voters are secular: 59 percent believe churches and religious organizations should have no role in politics. Only 29 percent regularly make time to attend religious services and pray. Strong majorities support both same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
Fiscally, these voters are conservatives with a healthy suspicion of government; 79 percent say either that government spending is wasteful and inefficient or that government spending should never exceed government income.
More than anything, these voters are pragmatic. They want results and resolution, not dogmatic inflexibility. They are still liberals or conservatives, but are liberated from tunnel vision and absolutism. While they are ready to disagree on issues, they want politics to move forward and achieve results instead of being stuck in the quagmire of endless, unproductive debate.
In this fascinating NBC News/Esquire data, the voters are calling out to both parties and their message is clear: Dogma is out, pragmatism is in.
This will be no small challenge to gridlocked status quo. The present political system is heavily incentivized to appease the most ideological voters in each party. With safely drawn congressional districts, only the voices of primary voters seem to be heard, leaving a majority of American voters feeling distant and disconnected from our national political debate.
The New Center wants a politics that will break that equation; that might seem a tall order when looking at the present system. But history shows us that, in time, voters do eventually achieve their desires. I am hopeful that the American Center will eventually prevail.