January 26, 2006
The missing middle
By Bill Kraus
The campaign strategies that guys like Ody Fish and John MacIver designed or honed in the last half of the 20th century were built on three major premises.
Identify your sure votes and organize a three yards and a cloud of dust effort to make sure those voters get to the polls.
Identify the groups or factions that are certain to vote against you, and diminish their incentive to go to the polls. “Don’t stir up the animals,” was the way MacIver put it when referring to these segments.
Devote the main persuasive effort to the swing voters, the self-anointed “independents,” the middle-of-the-road voters who were not identified with any knee jerk ethnic group or committed or beholden to narrow interest.
By the end of the century this strategy had been modified by something called wedging. The wedge strategy was built on the assumption that a majority of the people most likely to vote were identifiable by their attachment to an issue or a cause.
The Republicans who practiced wedging figured if they could cobble together the shooters, the right to lifers, and the taxophobic in an era of low voting turnouts, they could win any election.
They didn’t need the amorphous middlers whose main interest was the less well defined general interest anymore. Political campaigns were increasingly pitched to the zealots on both ends of the political spectrum.
Partisanship rose. Bi-partisan coalitions disappeared. Civility waned. Advantage rose in importance. Mutual respect diminished. Parties no longer had the better ideas; they had the only ideas.
Those sure voters, who were basically marginalized in the past, because they had no place to go, became the main event.
The middle disappeared.
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