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Guest Column

The Political Divide Ain't What It Seems
By Ned Witting
May 13, 2014 - 12:22:24 AM

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America isn't nearly as divided as politicians would have you believe. Despite the popular perceptions to the contrary, there are actually Democrats who are Christian, NRA members who support gun control, Republicans who are LGBT, businessmen who are environmentalists, and politicians who are not on the take.

Political stereotypes have probably never been accurate, but they are becoming even less so. This seems to have little effect on the popular rhetoric. Republicans and Democrats alike continue to fire up their bases with divisive talking points passed down by party political strategists. These messages are carefully worded and then test marketed to make sure they are as inflammatory as possible. No effort is spared to be sure they have the intended effect on the base of committed party faithful. For the opposing party, they present the opportunity for a counter barrage of vitriol. For the rest of us, the messages are the communication equivalent of waterboarding.

So what are moderates and Independents to do? The time is past where "nothing" is an acceptable answer. Unfortunately, our political process makes it difficult for moderates to win elections because their supporters are split between two political parties. In a congressional district with Republican and Democratic candidates, each with 30% support, and a moderate candidate with 40%, guess who wins the election. The moderate's 40% support is split 20% in the Republican party and 20% in the Democratic party. The moderate will be eliminated by a vote of 30% to 20% in one of the two primaries. As a result, one of the two candidates with only 30% approval will win the election.

If there were a two-person race in the general election, between the moderate and either of the two party candidates, the moderate would be expected to win 70% of the vote because committed Democrats will prefer a moderate over a committed Republican and visa-versa. The moderate never has the opportunity to win this resounding victory, however, because the two party primary system prevents them from ever running in the general election.

If you think this is balderdash, look at moderate Republican Lisa Murkowski's 2010 Senate campaign. She was defeated by Tea Party favorite Joe Miller in the Republican primary by a slim margin. Unlike most moderate candidates she was able to mount a viable write-in campaign in the general election. Despite not having her name on the ballot, she still came back and defeated both Miller and the Democratic candidate in the general election.

This explains why Tea Party candidates have been so successful. Their support is concentrated in the Republican party, making it easy to attack from the extreme of the political spectrum. Tea Party members also tend to be highly motivated and vote in disproportionate numbers in the primaries where their impact is greatest.

It is no wonder that moderates are disengaged. It is like being on an airline flight and the only meal options are Democratic oysters or Republican liver. Most flyers would prefer a moderate pasta or chicken dinner, but those meals were all left on the primary tarmac. Moderate voters really only have two choices in the general election. They can choose to skip dinner and stay home from the poles, or they can select one of the two meal offerings and hold their noses while they vote.

So what can moderates do to overcome this institutionalized bias against them?

Many moderates have tried to form a third, party, but never with much success. The barriers to entry are just too great. There are, however, steps moderates can take to succeed.

First, moderates must recognize that this bias exists and understand that overcoming it will require extraordinary measures.

Second, they need to develop the ability to organize and communicate across party lines.

Third, they must be willing to change their party affiliation so all moderate voters can vote as a block.

Finally, elected representatives must exert their influence by being willing to switch political parties to whichever party takes the more moderate position.

There are already a significant number of moderates in Congress, so enlisting them and adding a few more will be enough to break the gridlock and get government working again. Once there is a block of moderate legislators, constructive problem solving can begin. Then it's likely that we'll find that on most issues we weren't that far apart in the first place. It was just the political rhetoric that made it seem that way.

Ned Witting
Author of "Political Gridlock"

Ned Witting
is a successful American business owner, entrepreneur, and political junkie. A political moderate, he has attended both Republican and Democratic conventions but has never found a home in either party. He is the recipient of the Boy Scout Silver Beaver distinguished service award and is happily married to his sweetheart of more than thirty years.

"Political Gridlock"
by Ned Witting
Published by Authorhouse
Published on 3/7/2014
Pages 248
Softcover $20.00
E-Book $4.00

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