The center awaits a leader

Posted: October 29, 2013

TEA-BAGGER! Marxist!

Racist! Traitor!

From the political name-calling you get from the extremes, you'd swear that Americans, politically, are as divided as North and South Korea and have no center.

You'd be wrong. Here's the New American Center:

* Photo ID at the polls: 75 percent support, 58 percent strongly;

* Gun control: 60 percent want background checks and/or stronger gun laws;

* Ending affirmative action in hiring and college admissions: 57 percent support;

* Path to citizenship for illegal immigrants: 54 percent oppose;

* The Constitution can't provide guidance for many modern problems, 54 percent agree;

* Religious organizations should have no role in politics: 59 percent agree;

* Increase to $10 minimum wage, 67 percent support;

* Government assistance (food stamps, welfare, Medicaid) to help people who need it, 54 percent agree;

* Abortion legal, except for last trimester: 51 percent;

* Gay marriage: 55 percent favor;

* Legalizing marijuana: 52 per support;

* America should no longer be the world's policeman: 76 percent agree;

* America's security is at risk if we don't maintain a military and economic edge over China: 62 percent agree;

* Government spending: 79 percent say it's wasteful and inefficient or should never exceed what it takes in;

* Balanced federal budget: 77 percent support, 50 percent strongly;

* Raising taxes on millionaires: 78 percent favor, 59 percent strongly;

* Expanding domestic energy exploration: 80 percent favor, 54 percent strongly;

* Ending the death penalty: 64 percent oppose.

The above is the surprising, and possibly heartening, result of a poll, a national Rorschach test, commissioned by Esquire and NBC News, using two companies - one that polled for President Obama and one that polled for Mitt Romney.

Esquire says it reveals the new American Center, (formerly operating as the Silent Majority?) and says the Center is occupied by a majority of Americans, 51 percent. While the center is minuscule in Washington, where parties are polarized, moderation is expanding among people who live real lives.

I took the online test - mostly multiple-choice questions - and I landed in the MBA Middle. There are seven other groups: the far-right Righteous Right and Talk Radio Heads, the far-left Bleeding Hearts and Gospel Left and the middle Minivan Moderates, Pickup Populists and the #Whatever Man. (Where do you chart? Take the quiz at www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/center-interactive-quiz)

The new Center has a progressive streak on some social issues (abortion, gay marriage, marijuana) yet holds conservative views, too (environment, death penalty, diversity programs). This is what is technically known as a left-right mishmash. (Sorry for the jargon.)

Does the poll hold water?, I asked Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall.

"They say the center is larger than we think and the polarization is overstated," he said.

"They're basically right."

The Center is whiter than the left and less religious than the right. It doesn't want guns, God or taxes shoved down its throat. It is happy to give to the needy but its patience is thin for demands made by racial minorities and the undocumented.

The attitudes reject a binary approach - either Democratic or Republican. That is unsurprising, as Congress (made up of both) has never had worse ratings.

If the poll results are valid, Americans are turning their backs on a prix fixe meal. They want to order a la carte, and neither party's full menu suits them.

The tea party rocketed to prominence from the right. The next seismic movement will capture the Center.

Who will lead that?


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Blog: ph.ly/BykoColumns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky

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