The American Electorate’s “Squishy Center” vs. Liberty

I have invoked the electorate’s “squishy center” in several posts; for example:

If a left-wing Democrat (is there any other kind now?) returns to the White House and an aggressive left-wing majority controls Congress — both quite thinkable, given the fickleness of the electorate — freedom of speech, freedom of association, and property rights will become not-so-distant memories. “Affirmative action” will be enforced on an unprecedented scale of ferocity. The nation will become vulnerable to foreign enemies while billions of dollars are wasted on the hoax of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming and “social services” for the indolent. The economy, already buckling under the weight of statism, will teeter on the brink of collapse as the regulatory regime goes into high gear and entrepreneurship is all but extinguished by taxation and regulation.

All of that will be secured by courts dominated by left-wing judges — from here to eternity.

And most of the affluent white enablers dupes of the revolution will come to rue their actions. But they won’t be free to say so.

Thus will liberty — and prosperity — die in America. Unless … the vast, squishy center of the electorate takes heart from Trump’s efforts to restore prosperity (and a semblance of constitutional governance) and votes against a left-wing resurgence. The next big test of the squishy center’s mood will occur on November 6, 2018.

How big is the squishy center? I estimated here, based on popularity ratings for Obama and Trump, that about one-third of the electorate is hard left and about one-third is staunchly conservative; thus:

Figure 3
Derived from presidential approval ratings compiled by Rasmussen Reports for Obama and Trump.

I concluded on this note:

Left and right — the hard left and staunch conservatism, in particular — are irreconcilable. They are in fact locked in a death-struggle over the future of America. The squishy center is along for the ride, and will change its tune … and allegiance opportunistically, in the hope that it will end up on the “right side of history”.

As for the size of the squishy center: It may comprise about one-fifth of the electorate, rather than one-third, judging by electoral oscillations since the advent of the modern Republican Party around 1920. Hyper-active Teddy Roosevelt captured the party upon his ascendancy to the bully pulpit in 1901. Though TR’s presidency ended in 1909, the GOP remained in his thrall through 1916. TR’s “Bull Moose” (Progressive) candidacy in 1912 swung the election to Woodrow Wilson — the father of the administrative state. Charles Evans Hughes, the GOP nominee in 1916, was a TR man.

The GOP returned to “normalcy” in 1920, with the election of Warren G. Harding and his running mate-cum-successor, Calvin Coolidge. By “normalcy” I mean that Harding and subsequent GOP nominees have paid lip service, and sometimes actual service, to the project of limited, constitutional government. In any event, GOP presidential candidates, whatever their platforms and programs, have been consistently to the right of their Democrat opponents.

Given that, the division of the popular vote between the two major parties gives a first-order approximation of the ideological divide:

(I attribute the dampening of the fluctuations since 1984 to the generally uninspiring character of the post-Reagan candidates. Clinton’s weak surge in 1992 and 1996 reflects his GOP opponents — Bush I and Dole. Obama’s weaker surge in 2008 reflects McCain’s bumbling performance, and a temporary burst of enthusiasm among blacks and misguided whites who wanted to send a “message” to George W. Bush.)

A similar but more precise estimate of the ideological divide can be obtained by counting the votes cast for third parties. Drawing on Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections, I assigned votes to two camps, which I call Federalist and Nationalist. Federalist for the idea of a confederation where States are co-sovereign with a limited, central government; Nationalist for the idea of a strong central government of almost unchecked power, ruling over subservient States.

On the Federalist side are the GOP; the Southern Democrats of 1948 and 1968; and the Libertarians of 2016. (I count the Southern Democrats as favoring the Federalist side because of their stance on States’ rights, however ignoble the cause it served. But their inclusion does not taint the GOP, as I explain here.)

On the Nationalist side are the Democrat Party; the Socialists of 1920 and 1932; the Progressives of 1924 and 1948; the Independent/Reform parties of 1980, 1992, and 1996; and the Greens of 2000.

There are other third parties, of less consequence, that could be labeled Federalist or Nationalist — the Libertarians before 2016 and the Greens of 2016, for example. But assigning them wouldn’t make a significant difference in the picture of the ideological split, which looks like this:

The Federalist surge in the 1920s is less impressive than the GOP surge of that decade, while the Nationalist surge in the 1990s is more impressive than the Democrat surge of that decade. But the bottom line remains the same: The electorate swings between 40-60 percent in the GOP/Federalist camp and 40-60 percent in the Democrat/Nationalist camp.

That is to say, there’s a hard core Republican/Federalist vote of 40 percent and a hard-core Democrat/Nationalist vote of 40 percent. The other 20 percent can’t make up its collective mind. But it’s the decisive 20 percent.

Democracy is the enemy of liberty.

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