At this moment in American history, when the far right and far left seem to have so much influence in American politics, people often wonder: What happened to the political center?
To find the political center in America, you first need to know where to look. That’s why The New Center recently commissioned a poll from HarrisX and the Society of Presidential Pollsters to identify where the center lies for the American public on today’s most salient policy challenges and ideological, values-driven debates. What we found is both hopeful and surprising, and it starts with this.
Above all, the public—Democrats, Republicans, and independents—are tired of all the partisan sniping and want their elected officials to converge in the center and compromise. In our poll:
- 88% of respondents agree that we need a government that draws the best people and ideas from both parties; and
- 79% of respondents prefer politicians who compromise and get things done, rather than standing on principle and not acting.
We also asked respondents to provide us with their answers to a series of questions on a 1 to 5 scale, with one representing what most would consider a far-left perspective, and five representing what most would consider a far-right perspective.
Our poll shows that “the center” in America isn’t necessarily the midpoint between the two ideological extremes or what hill Republicans and Democrats are advocating for at the moment.
For example, the American public is squarely on the side of free speech. Even respondents who identified as Democrats voiced support for the First Amendment, despite the narrative from some on the right that they are anti-free speech and free expression.
And with growing civil unrest, the public seems to be moving right on the issue of gun ownership.
Conversely, the public appears to be moving left on the issue of retirement security. Respondents from all four ideological demographics, including self-identified Republicans, believe that the government should do more to provide healthcare and a secure income for retired people. This finding challenges the conventional narrative that Democrats are the party of expanding entitlement spending for seniors, and Republicans are the party of cutting it.
Amid a generational pandemic and economic crisis, it is also unsurprising that most Americans want more regulations to protect public health and believe the government has a role in securing healthcare and education access for those who cannot afford it.
Finally, there are some issues and values questions where public opinion really is dead center. For example, the public thinks the government needs to give roughly equal weight to protecting the interests of individuals and communities.
Similarly, the American people don’t believe that the United States should be the “world’s policeman,” but still believe that we should play a role on the world stage.
In short, voters tend to have very nuanced views on many issues at a time when our political system increasingly demands that elected officials embrace rigid views completely out of step with most Americans. So, while the poll found Americans prefer a capitalist economic system over a socialist one…
….it also found a broad consensus that the wealthy should pay more in taxes.
Given the inability of Washington to reflect the public’s nuanced views, it’s no wonder that 70% of the respondents polled believe that Congress is not working, and 83% of respondents believe that the system of creating bipartisan legislation in Congress has broken down.