Skip to content

Latest Stories

Top Stories

Guide to reviving the center: First, realize how half the electorate isn't polarized

President Joe Biden

President Biden and his fellow Democrats need to start their outreach by addressing those Americans who did not vote for Trump last year because they did not vote at all.

Pool/Getty Images

Anderson edited "Leveraging: A Political, Economic and Societal Framework" (Springer, 2014), has taught at five universities and ran for the Democratic nomination for a Maryland congressional seat in 2016.

There were 240 million eligible voters in the United States last fall, and Joe Biden and Donald Trump each got approximately one third of their votes.

Biden got 34 percent of these people to cast a ballot for him, Trump 31 percent. But, because of the math of the Electoral College, Trump would have secured re-election had only a combined 44,000 voters switched to him in Arizona, Wisconsin and Georgia. Moreover, millions who cast their votes for Biden did not do so with passion, and the same holds for Trump.

So it's probably fair to say that half the electorate was not passionately behind one of the 2020 presidential candidates — the 80 million who decided not to cast a ballot at all, for starters, along with perhaps 40 million who voted for one candidate because they disliked, feared or hated the other one.

The new president and his fellow Democrats newly in control of Congress need to think seriously about these figures. After the latest economic rescue package is enacted, under special rules that will allow passage along party lines, the Democrats' immediate task is to figure out how to deal with the Republican minority, especially in a Senate where 40 members can block almost all legislation and the GOP holds 50 seats. But the larger task is to figure out how to build unity in the country.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

Apart from wartime, it is always nearly impossible for the president and Congress, even if they are in the same party, to get 90 percent or even 80 percent of the country to stand for the same vision, values and policies. If Biden could get 70 percent or even 60 percent of adult Americans to approve of his leadership, that would be extraordinary.

"Here's the deal," as the president likes to say: Democrats in office need to stop assuming that they must convince Republicans across the country to agree with their proposals. Perhaps one in 10 people who identify as reliable GOP voters will be impossible to turn, because they are going to keep siding with the sorts of radicals who led the storming of the Capitol last month.

Instead, Democrats in power in Washington should start by addressing those Americans who did not vote for Trump last year because they did not vote at all. Many are moderates and independents, Most are what political scientists call "low information voters." And a good share are younger than 30.

Democrats next need to think about building support among perhaps 20 million Republicans who voted for Trump but do not buy his lies about losing only because of widespread election fraud. At the same time, the party must work to firm up commitments from those who voted for Biden not because they loved him but because they felt that they had to.The deal, in other words, is not to tell Republicans they need to get aboard the Democratic ship because it's the only boat leaving the dock. This is the wrong picture.

In short, building unity will be complicated, and therefore talking about it should not be in oversimplified terms. Indeed, it would be totally appropriate for Biden to commit to engaging those who stayed home, a solid share of Republicans who voted against him and those Democrats who voted for him without enthusiasm.

To that end, he may decide it makes sense to support election reform policies at the state or federal level. One example would be bids to end partisan gerrymandering in order to increase presidential turnout in very blue and very red states. Many voters in these places now feel their votes for Congress are meaningless because they live in districts that are a total lock for one party or the other. Similarly, they may not vote for president either, assuming their choice won't matter since their state is a sure thing for one of the candidates.

Getting Washington on the same page with the country is going to involve dealing with the people of the country using a different playbook than the one dealing with the people in Washington. Biden would do well to expand his concept of the citizens he needs to reach, and then use that vision to help orchestrate his efforts in Congress.

This can be done not only by the public policies he supports but also by the language he uses to talk to the country.

It's important to have creative policies. The key is to convince politicians, interest groups and the public that policies are needed — whether $1,400 payments to most people, federal child care subsidies, better health care, funding for vaccine distribution or jobs for young Americans.

What is needed above all is a more inclusive language — one that rejects simplistic binary distinctions pitting Democrats against Republicans, false dichotomies and master dualisms that distort the nature of the body politic.

The road ahead has immense challenges, especially as the entwined pandemic and economic crises fester. But dealing with these crises — along with our racial tension and changing climate — requires throwing out the cookie cutters that set Democratic voters against Republican voters and overstate the polarization of the country.

The polarization story the media has hyped in recent years provides the wrong framework for understanding what we need from our federal government. Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer need to stop looking at politics in terms of Democratic vs. Republican voters and Democratic vs. Republican politicians.

It's time for a more complex, realistic framework for creating a just society.

Read More

Podcast: How do police feel about gun control?

Podcast: How do police feel about gun control?

Jesus "Eddie" Campa, former Chief Deputy of the El Paso County Sheriff's Department and former Chief of Police for Marshall Texas, discusses the recent school shooting in Uvalde and how loose restrictions on gun ownership complicate the lives of law enforcement on this episode of YDHTY.

Listen now

Podcast: Why conspiracy theories thrive in both democracies and autocracies

Podcast: Why conspiracy theories thrive in both democracies and autocracies

There's something natural and organic about perceiving that the people in power are out to advance their own interests. It's in part because it’s often true. Governments actually do keep secrets from the public. Politicians engage in scandals. There often is corruption at high levels. So, we don't want citizens in a democracy to be too trusting of their politicians. It's healthy to be skeptical of the state and its real abuses and tendencies towards secrecy. The danger is when this distrust gets redirected, not toward the state, but targets innocent people who are not actually responsible for people's problems.

On this episode of "Democracy Paradox" Scott Radnitz explains why conspiracy theories thrive in both democracies and autocracies.

Your Take:  The Price of Freedom

Your Take: The Price of Freedom

Our question about the price of freedom received a light response. We asked:

What price have you, your friends or your family paid for the freedom we enjoy? And what price would you willingly pay?

It was a question born out of the horror of images from Ukraine. We hope that the news about the Jan. 6 commission and Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination was so riveting that this question was overlooked. We considered another possibility that the images were so traumatic, that our readers didn’t want to consider the question for themselves. We saw the price Ukrainians paid.

One response came from a veteran who noted that being willing to pay the ultimate price for one’s country and surviving was a gift that was repaid over and over throughout his life. “I know exactly what it is like to accept that you are a dead man,” he said. What most closely mirrored my own experience was a respondent who noted her lack of payment in blood, sweat or tears, yet chose to volunteer in helping others exercise their freedom.

Personally, my price includes service to our nation, too. The price I paid was the loss of my former life, which included a husband, a home and a seemingly secure job to enter the political fray with a message of partisan healing and hope for the future. This work isn’t risking my life, but it’s the price I’ve paid.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

Given the earnest question we asked, and the meager responses, I am also left wondering if we think at all about the price of freedom? Or have we all become so entitled to our freedom that we fail to defend freedom for others? Or was the question poorly timed?

I read another respondent’s words as an indicator of his pacifism. And another veteran who simply stated his years of service. And that was it. Four responses to a question that lives in my heart every day. We look forward to hearing Your Take on other topics. Feel free to share questions to which you’d like to respond.

Keep ReadingShow less
No, autocracies don't make economies great

libre de droit/Getty Images

No, autocracies don't make economies great

Tom G. Palmer has been involved in the advance of democratic free-market policies and reforms around the globe for more than three decades. He is executive vice president for international programs at Atlas Network and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

One argument frequently advanced for abandoning the messy business of democratic deliberation is that all those checks and balances, hearings and debates, judicial review and individual rights get in the way of development. What’s needed is action, not more empty debate or selfish individualism!

In the words of European autocrat Viktor Orbán, “No policy-specific debates are needed now, the alternatives in front of us are obvious…[W]e need to understand that for rebuilding the economy it is not theories that are needed but rather thirty robust lads who start working to implement what we all know needs to be done.” See! Just thirty robust lads and one far-sighted overseer and you’re on the way to a great economy!

Keep ReadingShow less
Podcast: A right-wing perspective on Jan. 6th and the 2020 election

Podcast: A right-wing perspective on Jan. 6th and the 2020 election

Peter Wood is an anthropologist and president of the National Association of Scholars. He believes—like many Americans on the right—that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and the January 6th riots were incited by the left in collusion with the FBI. He’s also the author of a new book called Wrath: America Enraged, which wrestles with our politics of anger and counsels conservatives on how to respond to perceived aggression.

Where does America go from here? In this episode, Peter joins Ciaran O’Connor for a frank conversation about the role of anger in our politics as well as the nature of truth, trust, and conspiracy theories.

Keep ReadingShow less