These people, like any closed social set, too often think that the rest of the world looks just like them. They are dissatisfied with both major parties, whom they find too extreme. They would like someone who stands up for “reason” and “balance” and use their dominance of thought leadership to push their views and hold candidates for office up to their standards. And they are regularly disappointed when so many of them don’t measure up — and do well at the ballot box anyway.
The fact is, the share of people who hold their views are either vanishingly small or largely satisfied with what the Democratic Party has to offer. Exit polls in 2016 showed that only 18 percent of Americans did not like either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in 2016 — way too few to base a national campaign upon. Data from the Voter Study Group show that people who line up as economically conservative and socially liberal are a mere 4 percent of the total electorate. The same data show that people who are economically centrist and socially liberal are largely partisan Democrats as loyal to their party as those on the progressive far left.
Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz comes to the same conclusion using different data. People who call themselves moderates hold issue positions largely indistinguishable from those who call themselves liberal. And, not surprisingly, self-professed moderates who hold liberal positions are almost as likely to dislike President Trump as the more self-aware liberal set.
This suggests that the Schultz constituency, such as it is, is identical to the Biden constituency. That is, there is no large group of educated moderates who are swinging between the two parties and are looking for a third-party candidate. The people like Schultz are largely in the Democratic establishment camp or the loud but tiny Republican Never Trump hamlet. These people are looking to beat Trump and fuel Joe Biden’s campaign. Schultz was never going to beat Biden, and his unwillingness to run as a Democrat in the hope Biden might falter doomed his chances from the start.
There is a large group of more moderate Americans who are dissatisfied with the core views of each major party, but they aren’t the elites. They are the people New America fellow Lee Drutman calls “populists”: leaning to the left on economics and to the right on cultural issues that deal with national identity such as immigration. They tend to be socioeconomically downscale compared with the urban elites, less likely to have graduated from college and definitely less likely to be upper-middle class.
The same group is in motion in other countries. Matthew Goodwin, a British political scientist, notes that the swing group in British politics is also center-left on economics and center-right on social issues. These are the voters who backed Brexit and whom Prime Minister Boris Johnson is courting. Johnson is known in the United States for his hard line on the ongoing Brexit controversy, but his new government is also promising a massive increase in social spending should it win the election Britain will likely hold later this year in a nakedly transparent appeal to these voters.
Smart center-left politicians in Europe have noticed this and followed suit. Spanish Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez’s party won his country’s elections this spring by tilting left on economics and embracing anti-Catalan separatist sentiment. Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen, a Social Democrat, won her country’s recent election by co-opting the national populist Danish People’s Party anti-Muslim immigration agenda while promising more spending and combating climate change. It turns out there are more votes up for grabs among the working-class than there are among the urban smart set.
Schultz was clearly not the type of candidate to appeal to the United States’ true swing voters. But his general background — an outsider with private-sector credibility — might be the right ticket for someone else to try. After all, these people have switched parties to back a former executive of a nationally known company who echoed their views — and that man sits in the Oval Office today as a result.