Conventional wisdom holds that we are a divided nation, split between the right and the left, red and blue, conservative and liberal.
This division was both caused and further perpetuated by numerous factors: the advent of politically purist groups on both ends of the spectrum, think tanks and research organizations that churn out reports to back their deeply held views, news media that panders to a political philosophy rather than hard cold facts, talk radio that incites rather than informs, billionaire financiers that fund well-organized groups to do their bidding, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing unlimited political expenditures under the guise of free speech and the growing belief that only one side wins while the other must lose.
Gone are the days of President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill, leaders of different parties and different philosophies, who worked together for the common good because they put country before ego. They understood the art of negotiation and the importance of compromise.
Those in positions of power today no longer look for win-win situations. In fact, they can’t even claim victory until they force the other side to accept defeat. Working together to achieve a mutual objective has been replaced by high-stakes winning at any cost regardless of collateral damage.
Those on the far right who are organized, vocal and passionate have no tolerance for those in the party whom they view to be squishy. They call them RINOs (Republicans in name only) and taunt them to leave the party. Some have taken them up on that suggestion.
I’ve long suspected that despite the loudest voices from the far ends of the spectrum that most Americans fall somewhere in the middle and comprise a majority, albeit a relatively silent majority.
Curious, I looked up the trends in Florida’s voter registration.
Florida’s Division of Elections website lists voter registration from 1972 to the present in three categories: Republican, Democrat and Other.
Long a predominately Democratic state, Florida looked like this in 1972: Democrats had 69 percent of registered Florida voters compared to 28 percent Republican and a scant 3 percent for “other.” Two decades later, in 1992, Democrats saw a huge drop to 51 percent, and Republicans jumped to 41 percent with “other” still in the single digits, with 8 percent.
Fast forward another two decades to August 2013 to see that Democrats barely maintain a lead with 40 percent of Florida’s registered voters to the Republicans’ 35 percent. And while both parties lost market share, those not affiliated with either major party now represent one out of every four voters, or 25 percent.
It’s a seismic shift that illustrates the frustration of voters with both parties. Clearly voters are screaming out to the warring factions, “A pox on both your houses.”
The challenge for the political parties is not so much in getting voters to switch from one party to the other but rather to lure back those who happily belong to neither. Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards acknowledged that, together, third-party and “no party” registration is outpacing the two major parties every month.
The registration numbers help paint a picture of a large number of voters who don’t feel they belong in the current version of either party, but it really doesn’t tell us where they fall on the political spectrum. One could reasonably argue somewhere in the middle.
What’s been even harder to gauge is where people are on the political spectrum regardless of party affiliation — and just who makes up the true majority of voters.
A recent survey, conducted on behalf of NBC News and Esquire Magazine, lends credence to my belief that somewhere in the middle there is a majority that doesn’t belong to the extreme agenda at either end.
The study found that only 28 percent of voters make up the right end of the spectrum and 21 percent are on the left. Fifty-one percent of voters, at the center, share a common set of ideas or views.
It found that America’s new center is patriotic and proud and leans socially progressive by supporting gay marriage and legalized marijuana. It leans to the right on capital punishment and offshore drilling. Those in the 51 percent are anything but wishy-washy. They are pragmatic, embracing a mix of Republican and Democratic ideals.
Their hunger for change just might cause this majority to be silent no more.
Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland.