Today, the political parties in America seem locked in a day-in, day-out battle for the electorate. The turnover in office has been profound for more than ten years. It has been a switchover in control from one party to the other as great as any time in our history.
Two presidents elected from opposing political parties and on opposite sides of the political spectrum for two terms each. The House of Representatives in seeming constant turnover and seemingly up for grabs again in 2014. And tremendous volatility in the United States Senate where next year Democrats look in danger of losing their few seat advantage. Why is this?
Many pundits and political scientists have advanced different reasons for this, from patterns of citizens movements and geography becoming more homogeneous and redistricting following these movements, a system of elections where each side seems to be able to raise whatever money is needed, a polarized cable media environment which gives a megaphone to both conservative and liberal philosophy alike, and dysfunctional system in Washington which seems to punish compromise and reward obstructionism. All these are true to a degree, but I want to settle on a more fundamental situation — neither party represents a majority of the country on a wide variety of issues.
Having perused and examined hundreds of different polls over the last 15 years from organizations representing the media, parties, interest groups and universities it is clear both the Democratic and Republican parties each represent only a minority of voters with the vast majority of the country unrepresented in our political system today even as each party wins elections year in and year out.
I have always thought of the country as a mixed bag of views not always conservative and not always liberal – we are mutts. We are a country which both believes in the importance of the individual and the importance of the community. That we believe in private property and individual rights and responsibilities, while we also believe that there are many times where collective action is demanded and government has some crucial roles. We believe in the idea a person can walk a high wire in their own life if they desire, but we also believe in a safety net to catch people if they fall.
The majority of citizens in the United States are fiscally conservative and socially progressive. Citizens are responsible enough in their own lives to balance their budgets, so why shouldn’t governments at every level. Voters also believe that they each have a moral compass to guide their own lives on social issues within some limits so why should government be intrusive in telling them what to do?
Voters believe government should be funded through a fair tax system to do needed things efficiently and effectively without fraud and abuse. They believe everyone should pay something in taxes to our system no matter their income level so that everyone has a stake, and they think the wealthy, who have been blessed with more, should pay a higher share of taxes than they do today. But they only believe this if they trust government will spend the money wisely on proven programs. Today they don’t trust efficiency in government, so why should they pay more in taxes to a broken system?
The majority distrusts organizations at all levels that get too big, too unwieldy, too bureaucratic, and too disconnected from the hopes and dreams of average Americans. They don’t trust big government, but they also don’t trust big business, Wall Street, big media, and big unions. They believe that their interests aren’t represented in committee rooms in Washington, D.C., or in conference rooms in New York City.
Voters simultaneously believe in the right of citizens to marry whom they want regardless of sex or race, to own guns if they desire, and to make the heartfelt decision on abortion. But they also want limits on each of these so that traditions are respected and all life is honored. They believe in background checks for purchasing guns at all levels, in a unified tracking system, and in limits on high capacity clips and assault rifles. They believe, as science has informed us, that abortion should be limited to early in pregnancy and conducted in a safe and ethical way with safeguards in place.
Americans believe that our entitlement system is needed and that programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are crucial today. But they also believe each of these is broken and in great need of reform. That the programs put in place more than 50 years ago are in need of updating with some fundamental changes to address the demographics and healthcare of today.
The majority of America believes in equal pay for equal work no matter the sex or race of the worker, but they also don’t believe in quotas and an affirmative action system set up in a different time in America. They believe men and women, no matter the race, have some fundamental differences in approach and outlook, but they believe everyone should be treated with respect and judged on their merits.
A majority is religious and spiritual in their everyday lives but are not judgmental. Their faith informs them, but doesn’t make them holier than thou. While believing in the tenets of their own religion, they understand morality and kindness and a relationship with God is spread across all faiths from Christian to Muslim to Jew to Hindu to all spiritual practices.
Americans believe the country has an obligation to defend ourselves from terrorists and those that want to do us harm, but believe all individuals have rights to privacy and a just system. They accept the necessity of war, but believe it should be a last resort when all other methods have been exhausted to achieve peace. They get, more so than our leaders, the tremendous sacrifice it takes by men and women who primarily come from Middle America.
This is just a sampling as one looks across the country of where the majority of America stands. Have they evolved over the years on many issues? Yes, but they also have retained some fundamental values that haven’t changed as tremendous technological, medical, cultural and industrial movement has occurred. At our core, the average American believes in fair play, accountability, honesty, compassion, responsibility and justice.
As we approach the 2014 midterms and an open presidential race in 2016, it might be a good idea for leaders of both political parties to understand they are out of step with the country and build a winning coalition, which starts where the majority sits. It would not only be smart, it is what is needed.
There you have it.
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