Robert Borosage and Stanley Greenberg have an in-depth look at our emerging center-left majority. Here’s their take on the moderate vote:
The conservative claim to a center-right majority comes from addition. More voters say they are conservative than liberal (by a margin of 34 to 22 in this election). Add conservatives to the 44 percent who say they are moderates and you’ve got the majority.
But the addition doesn’t hold up under any analysis. It assumes that moderates are without definition and more likely to swing right than left. This simply ignores reality. In 2008, self-described moderates, about 44 percent of the electorate, voted 60 to 39 for Obama. And, as has been increasingly true in polling going back to 2004, broad majorities have a world view far closer to liberals and Democrats than to conservatives or Republicans.
The exception is that moderates remain far more skeptical about government — and government spending — than liberals do. Conservative misrule has given them every reason to believe that large portions of their taxes are wasted. Not surprisingly, Republicans and conservatives have already been trying to paint Obama as a tax-and-spend liberal, while bemoaning the fact that Bush ran up deficits at the same time he increased spending across the board.
This is interesting, but I think it fundamentally misunderstands the appeal of conservatism. If I believed the federal government was capable of efficiently administering an expansive welfare state, I suppose I’d still consider myself a liberal. I might not self-identify as a social democrat because I have certain ideas about the irreducible importance of economic freedom and the dangers of dependency, but I’d probably be a lot more open to, say, Barack Obama’s health care plan or the auto industry bailout.
So when moderates express suspicion of the efficacy of government intervention, they’re giving voice to a thoroughly conservative critique of the modern welfare state. Granted, it’s a critique grounded in empiricism, not ideology, but it still reflects the existence of certain widespread anti-government sentiments. Perhaps a successful Obama Administration will permanently erase this tendency, but I doubt it. In this respect, at least, the United States remains something of a center-right country.