Political Middle not important

June 5th, 2013 by Ken

By Jan Teague, President/CEO

Washington Retail Association

Tuesday night at the Washington Research Council’s annual meeting, author Bill Bishop spoke about how people are clustering into like-minded communities that are far to the right or left, with the middle ground disappearing.

Now this isn’t a revolutionary idea.  You know the saying, “birds of a feather flock together.”  But Bishop did have some valuable observations about how our culture has re-organized since the 1960’s when, he argues, the entire population of the world began to think differently about the future.  People grew less inclined to stay ingrained with their family’s ways, their family’s philosophy or to live in their family’s area.

Bishop noted that those who attended universities became the most isolated from their larger communities.  Their jobs and their friends offered a narrow perspective on life and resulted in groups of people who thought alike the more that time passed.  Again, this makes sense for us all because our work world takes so much of our time.  I hadn’t really given in to the idea that I was isolated, but I do recognize that there is only a small amount of personal time left in a day to think about participating in other interests and meeting people who might not think the way I do.

Bishop’s book, The Big Sort, explains in greater detail how this trend has changed our country.  From my desk there is the question of how we view those who have not moved to the left or the right in their political views, the “undecided voter.”

Bishop believes this group that has been the talk of the media and the campaign focus in recent years is becoming less important. He explained that as people move into like-minded groups, they become more radical in their thinking.  They do that to be accepted by their group and to be known as someone the group can trust.  Undecided people in the middle have a hard time belonging, Bishop maintains.  They read these polarizing pieces of information that don’t provide the clarity they seek.  They tend to stay home, they tend to not act on information and not vote.

This seemed like a fresh observation with political implications.

How do you develop the best campaign strategy to win a race?   Bishop said that phone calls don’t work and mailers don’t work.  Getting your friends out to vote does work, which is what President Obama did in his last two campaigns.  The best influence comes from those like-minded individuals willing to talk to their friends and encourage them to vote.

Forget about the undecided.  Voter turnout is the name of the game now and personal contact is the most effective way to achieve results.

What Bishop didn’t address was that the business of politics was made easier with the clear philosophical distinctions between the two political parties.  Each party’s ability to express its views to its constituents became easier.  The campaign information helped people align with the information they wanted to trust.  It became easier to craft what a candidate would say and not say.  On this point Bishop did say that now it’s hard to find a candidate willing to run from the middle.  There just isn’t the campaign support out there to fund those types of candidates.  Bishop said that if a candidate says, “I would like to be myself,” there just isn’t the party support there.

Public television station TVW taped the interview and it should soon be available to watch.  It’s worth watching.  At the end of the presentation, I learned the book was published in 2008, so it doesn’t consider the recession or its impacts on our culture.

I do think that we continue to be polarized, which is why we can’t get our leaders to come to agreements any more.  If you come to the middle, it’s a sign that the group no longer can trust you. It no longer fits the model where talk is on the more radical side of the policy under debate.  Bishop added that in modern politics, it doesn’t matter what one side says because the other side will simply oppose it.

We’ve lost the middle ground.

Posted in Government, History, Informational, Local Politics, The Real News

(comments are closed).