That's not the middle of a road. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
That's not the middle of a road. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Commenter ModeratePoli asks:

"Question 1: According to Pew studies, roughly 40% of the electorate classify themselves as moderates. Why doesn't one of the political parties stake out that moderate middle ground and scoop up those voters?"

There are several answers, but I'll start by noting that, all things being equal, electoral pressures almost certainly do push parties to the center.

However:

1. Moderates often aren't all that moderate. Many who describe themselves as "moderate" actually have plenty of extreme positions, but just don't sort them conventionally. So, for example, someone who strongly supports abortion rights without exception, and also supports gun rights without exception, might be categorized as a moderate, but won't be happy at all with parties that seek the middle-ground on those issues.

2. Strong partisans tend to vote more than true moderates and otherwise participate more in politics.

3. Primary elections push candidates away from the center and toward the party median.

4. Parties are coalitions of interest groups and individuals who get involved in politics for particular reasons, often a specific public policy demand. That's true of both ideologues and groups with more material interests, such as the Chamber of Commerce or unions. More often than not, those demands are not moderate, even though many of those making the demands might otherwise be considered moderates.

5. Even party actors who start out as moderates often end up embracing the party's policy preferences on a wide range of issues, taking cues from party leaders on policies about which they don't have strong opinions. Indeed, this effect is so powerful that they may wind up "caring" about something purely because their party expresses outrage about it. The growth of party-aligned media has likely reinforced that trend, although my (non-expert) impression is that research is surprisingly mixed on the media effects.

Mitigating against all that are general election incentives, which really do tend to push the parties together. But it's no surprise that overall, parties wind up with distinct -- and frequently immoderate -- positions on most issues.

To contact the writer of this article: Jonathan Bernstein at Jbernstein62@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net.