The death of the political middle, in 1 PowerPoint slide

October 28, 2013

Looking for the political middle in Congress? It's gone.

Check out this amazing chart  courtesy of Bill McInturff of GOP polling firm Public Opinion Strategies -- that uses National Journal's vote ratings to illustrate the decline and near-disappearance of the political middle over the past three decades.


In 1982, there were 344 Members whose voting records fell somewhere between the most conservative voting Democrat and the most liberal voting Republican in the House. Thirty years later, there were 11. That means that in 1982 the centrists -- or at least those who by voting record were somewhere near the middle of their respective parties -- comprised 79 percent of the House. In 2012 they made up 2.5 percent of the House. So, yeah.

There are any number of reasons for this disappearance -- partisan gerrymandering and closed primaries being the two most obvious -- but the numbers are unbelievably stark, particularly when you consider that roughly 30 percent of the electorate consider themselves political independents. (According to exit polling, 29 percent of people named themselves independents in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.)

The slide above also explains why there will be no grand or even big bargain on debt and spending -- or much of anything else -- anytime soon. The political incentive to make deals simply does not exist in the House and, in fact, there is almost always a disincentive for members to work across the aisle. (This is less true in the Senate where a centrist coalition -- Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Kelly Ayotte, Joe Manchin, Mark Pryor, Mark Begich etc -- exists although that coalition has shrunk in recent years too.)

The deal-makers -- as we have seen from the last month in the House -- are largely gone. The two people who do seem capable of crafting deals -- Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- come from a different time in politics. (Biden was elected to the Senate in 1972, McConnell in 1984.) The middle's voice in the House is so soft as to be almost non-existent. And it's hard to see that changing -- at least in the near term.

All of which means one thing: No deal(s).

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Chris Cillizza · October 28, 2013