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Monday, May 16, 2005

GOP moving left

In my previous post, I made the remark that the Republican party would likely move leftward ideologically if the Democrats continue on their current trajectory. This provoked quite a bit of discussion and disagreement with some of my readers thinking that I had meant that the Republican party would actually move rightward.

I stand by my original statement and would like to illustrate the point. I like to visualize issues like this so I have created a graph that will hopefully help my readers better understand the ideologically positions of American political parties.

This graph is meant to portray the American electorate on a left/right ideological axis. I recognize that this viewpoint ignores the fact that some people are liberal on one issue but conservative on other or ideologies such as libertarianism or populism. However, I wanted to be as simplistic as possible for the purpose of this discussion.

The bars across the bottom represent a classic bell curve of the American electorate. This assumes that there is a bell curve distribution of voters across the political spectrum with the majority being in the center.

I have first portrayed the Republican and Democrat parties to show the spectrum of ideological viewpoints that each party contained prior to last year's election. The overlap at (a) shows where many political battles have taken place over the past 20 years, in the center. Depending upon the circumstances, both parties have had great success attracting these voters in the center. While some within each party have called for greater "ideologically purity" that would pull each party away from the center, until last year neither party had done this in fear of losing the huge amount of votes that the center represents.

This would be a good time to point out that the primary goal for both parties is power, not ideological purity. Each party will change their rhetoric or policies to the extent that they believe will attract new voters or better voter turnout among their current faithful.

I believe most would agree that the Democratic party has moved leftward over the past year. This is certainly reflected by the leadership both in elected officials and by DNC staff. This leftward movement is also seen in the ascendance of groups like Moveon.org and blogs like DailyKos.

The dashed lines show where I believe each party is heading. The Democrats have certainly shifted left and contrary to warning from the left, the Republicans are making a similar shift. This shift is likely to occur for the following reason. By moving right, the Republicans stand to lose some of those voters that they have gained in the center. However, they have little to gain as there are few voters on the far right and those voters are likely voting Republican already. However, by moving left, the GOP can look to gain more of thosee voters in the center or left-center, which would represent establishing a larger majority. There is little to risk by this move as those on the far right have no other options. Even if they stopped voting, their small numbers are insignificant compared to the large center.

I have marked two other areas that offer some interesting possibilities. The section identified as (b) offers an opportunity for a new party or movement to regain the center that is being ceded by the Democrats. I have often thought that the US could really use a socially conservative yet economically liberal party that kept a moderate tone. People like Jim Wallis are gaining credibility for this idea daily.

Another possibility is shown in (c). I believe that there is also the possibiliy of a party or movement outflanking the Republican party on the right. I believe that this could only happen with an economically conservative and socially moderate or liberal movement or party. The Libertarian party is the obvious candidate here if they can shed some of their out-of-the-mainstream ideas like drug legalization.

I mention these two scenarios to show how another party could become the new minority party should the Democrats continue their slide. Because of our electoral system, we will always be a two-party system.

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