Shrinking the middle: Moderate candidates suffer from party polarization

Elizabeth Golden

The diversity of political opinions in the U.S. becomes obvious at the onset of the election.

Unfortunately, parties are portrayed as rigid polar opposites. Republicans are conservative, and Democrats are liberal. There is no realm in between. Everyone must identify as a Republican or Democrat, and as a result, all Republicans must support the death penalty and oppose abortion and same-sex marriage. College students must be liberal because those who aren’t are intolerant and against freedom, apparently.

These are just some of the stereotypes that have come to typecast everyone into the current two-party political system.

As someone who identifies as a moderate independent, I find this system repulsive.

I’m sick of media portraying Republicans as being automatically conservative and Democrats as being automatically liberal. This makes it nearly impossible for any moderate candidate to win an election.

PACs and other outside groups representing their agendas fund candidates who are loyal to one party while pouring money into stopping more moderate candidates in primary elections.

According to Oklahoma Representative Dan Boren (D), members of Congress are pressured not to vote for bills that go outside of their party obligation.

“If you’re not 100 percent pure with that group or party, you’re targeted,” he said.

Due to the “party requirements,” a recent New York Times article stated that moderate members of Congress are slowly being pushed out.

“We don’t have a Congress anymore, we have a parliament,” said Representative Jim Cooper of Tennessee, one of the last moderate Democrats in Congress. “We moderates are an endangered species, but we are also a necessary ingredient for any problem solving.”

As much as the American people express strong interest in having a majority that represents bipartisan interests, Cooper continues to compare the current political system to Hollywood.

“Most people say there is too much violence and sex, but those are the only tickets that sell,” he said.

Cooper, along with several other Congress members, believes this is primarily due to the redistricting of districts as the corrosion of a moderate Congress began a decade ago.

“Some candidates don’t even have to wake up on Election Day to win,” said Representative Steven LaTourette, a Republican from Ohio. “I have not seen yet a redistricting proposal that is anything other than trying to favor one side over the other.”

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican, spent the majority of his career targeting partisan deadbeat politicians and had a strong dislike for the party system.

He pushed for candidates to run in the primaries without a political affiliation, so two candidates of the same party could essentially run against each other in the finals.

“Partisanship is the No. 1 enemy,” he said. “We can’t move forward on the most important things plaguing our country.”

As hard as it may be to get elected as a moderate, it’s even harder, if not impossible, as a moderate independent.

According to a 2011 Gallup poll, nearly 40 percent of Americans identified themselves as independent, but George Washington was the only independent presidential candidate to be elected.

Illinois, Maine, Rhode Island, Texas and Minnesota are the only states to have ever elected an independent as Governor. Currently, Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders are the only independents in the Senate, but both caucus with the Democrats.

The Office of the Clerk on the White House website states that out of the 435 members of Congress, the two mentioned above are the only ones who identify as independent.

If 40 percent of Americans identify as independent, why is it still so hard to be elected as an independent candidate? Why can’t a Republican be elected with a pro-abortion/pro-same-sex marriage stance? Why can’t polarized politicians realize they don’t have the right to decide what someone does in their personal lives?

Part of the problem is that although so many identify as independent voters, they  refuse to vote for an independent candidate because they feel that their vote is being ‘thrown away.’

The resulting choice is between the lesser of two evils.

Although the current system may prove irritating and ineffective, nothing can really be done in the short run.

Moderate candidates still won’t receive funding and votes, and biased politicians will continue to rule the land.

I can only dream that one day there will be hope for all of us who despise the current political system to have the opportunity to vote for a viable independent candidate who is not simply a stereotype of his/her political party.

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