Primary battles take place on the edges of the electorate, but general elections are decided in the middle – in the political mainstream. So on a list of important issues which party is in the mainstream? It depends on your point of view, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
But among the key group of voters in every election, self-described independents, the opinions are pretty clear and the news isn’t good for Republicans.
Among the Party Faithful
Democratic primary voters are certain that their party is the sensible centrist voice in American politics. Republicans see things 180 degrees differently
There are a few differences in those charts. Note that Democrats seem to feel they are most in line with the public on gay marriage, abortion and climate change. And Republicans feel they are the most mainstream on guns and fiscal issues.
But, overall, the divide is pretty remarkable and it shows the bias that members of each party have for their own views. Not only do they believe they are in the right, they believe the American people are with them. This is actually the two-pronged force behind primary campaigns: We’re Right and Our Message Will Lead Us to Victory.
But, of course, that can’t actually be the case. On divisive issues like these the American people can’t think both parties are in the mainstream. They don’t, and independent voters show where the key differences lie.
Among the Independents
Looking at those same six issues with independent voters gives a much clear indication of how the general election electorate feels about the parties – and the numbers suggest that on the Democrats are in much better shape when it comes to being “in the mainstream.”
On abortion, gay marriage and climate change, independent voters believe the Democratic Party is more in the mainstream than outside of it – and by large margins on gay marriage and climate change. The only issue where independents believe the GOP is more in the mainstream than not is guns.
Those numbers reveal two things. They give a sense of the issues each party may want to focus on next fall. But they also suggest the issues the Democratic and Republican hopefuls may want to be most careful about during the primary campaign.
If you are, say Hillary Clinton, talking about guns may help inspire your base this coming Spring, but those words could come back to haunt you should you win the nomination. Likewise on the Republican side, taking strong conservative positions on abortion, gay marriage or climate change, may pay short-term dividends for Ben Carson or Marco Rubio in the GOP dogfight, but it could also posed long-term problems.
Perhaps most interesting, look at how independents feel about both parties on fiscal issues (such as taxation) and immigration: On those issues independent voters think the Democratic and Republican parties are more out of the mainstream than in it.
That means on two issues that are likely to be a key focus in 2016, both parties have work to do if they want to win over the voters they’ll need to win the White House.