There is no creature more revered in American politics than the moderate voter. Unlike the ideologues and partisans destroying politics, the moderate is free of cant and independent of party. She yearns for politicians who get along, who govern reasonably and incrementally, who steer a course between the extremes of the left and the right. The problem with Washington is that her pleas so often go unheard.
The only problem is moderates are largely a statistical myth — and efforts to empower them may, accidentally, lead to the rise of more extreme candidates.
What happens, explains David Broockman, a political scientist at the University of California at Berkeley, is that surveys mistake people with diverse political opinions for people with moderate political opinions. The way it works is that a pollster will ask people for their position on a wide range of issues: marijuana legalization, the war in Iraq, universal health care, gay marriage, taxes, climate change, and so on. The answers will then be coded as to whether they’re left or right. People who have a mix of answers on the left and the right average out to the middle — and so they’re labeled as moderate.