The USA is a Left of Center Nation
The USA is a left of center nation given the center defined by elites. This is my off topic thought (and comment) on a brilliant post on money and politics at The Monkey Cage. Ray LaRaja and Brian Schaffner note that parties give to centrist incumbents (likely to be in seriously contested seats) and argue that allowing more soft money controlled by parties would reduce polarization.
I note and steal their very first graph on issue opinions of people who don’t donate money to political campaigns (95% of the population) (click read more to see a thumbnail then click it to see the figure — sorry I am wordpressilliterate).
I am interested in the fact that, according to the ideological scale, the average (and median and modal) non donor is well to the left of center. I am sure that when people here of the center, they think of the center of public opinion. But the center as defined by, well for example, LaRaja and Schaffner is to the right of the center of public opinion.
I asked them how they defined zero. I can think of many definitions which would give this result. One is sort issues as left or right based on House roll calls (Dems vote left) then look a the aveage or median representative — so we just learn the House is to the right of the country. Another is subjective and consists of choosing a set of issues where members of the elite perceive answering yes to half of the questions to be centrist.
My final guess is that the center perceived by political scientists and journalists is somewhere in between the average view and the weighted average of opinions weighted by the income of the opinion holder.
Move the zero point around enough and you can define the US as a leftist or a rightist country. It is obvious however that they did not define the center as the center of public opinion. And I wonder why not?
and I wonder “why?”
so we get to decide what color arm band to wear?
case in point: SS is generally considered “left of center” by people who care about such labels. I suppose because “the government” has something to do with it. which would make the Interstate Highways “left of center.”
On the other hand when I try to “fix” Social Security by suggesting that people just keep on paying for it themselves, the way they always have… the way they have always paid for their own retirements… I get called a shill for the rich, which i take to mean “right of center.”
Then when everyone has decided which team I am on they can hate me or ignore me according to their gang colors. Simpler that way.
Why or why not? I guess it comes down to the same thing. If you are going to use the center to define left and right, then you should define the center.
After all, every point on a line is the center.
@ Jerry Critter
In defence of LaRaja and Schaffner, I linked to a blog post which puts an extreme premium on brevity with a side order of avoiding alarmingly technical descriptions. I am sure they defined the center formally as the median or mean of some distribution. I guess it is based on votes in the US Congress. I do think that a note explaining this would have added to their post (I told them in a comment).
I would define the left more and right more answer to a question either by correlation with party identification, by correlation with liberal moderat conservative identification or by votes by party in congress. I am pretty sure that these would give the same assignments of yes to left and right. Then I would define the center as the average of left scores responses in a survey of US adults.
This would mean that whatever LaRaja and Brian Schaffner define as 0 is to the right of the US center, as I define it. This would be interesting if I had their academic paper where it is defined. I shall google.
I guess my “why?” was meant more as “why bother?” With respect to Waldmann who is entitled to what interests him, I regard party labels (including “liberal” v “conservative” as just one more trick to distract people from thinking about real problems and to regard politics as something like the fierce rivalry between White Sox fans and Cubs fans.
Social Security, for example, is an elegant solution to a real problem… how to save for retirement. But as long as people can be induced to think of it as “socialism” they are induced to not think at all.
And this includes not only those who have been taught to hate “socialism,” but those who have been taught to hate “capitalism” and so regard SS… without understanding it at all… as something that can be “fixed” by “making” the rich pay for it.
It seems that, as a matter of personal adaptive necessity, Washington opinion-makers have their own way of deciding where the center is. It seems to be some determination of a halfway point between where DC Republicans (i.e., only Congress and right wing lobbying organizations) and veteran Democrats are on any given issue.
For Social Security, the estimated halfway point between full support for the program, without any benefit cuts in any case, and privatizing it as the core Republican position, seems to be (a) adopting the Chicken-Little assessment of its financial health, and (b) finding some way to cut benefits. It almost seems like a rite of passage in DC, with zero regard for the facts, to go at least that far to the right on Social Security.
However, by definition the national public determines the true center, and with virtually 80% support for not cutting benefits — and imagine what that number would be if people had not been effectively lied to for 30 years about the finances of the program — clearly people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren qualify squarely as the centrists.
When presented with the possibility that a public option (like Medicare buy-in) would be available as a choice in the state exchanges, the support for it was 80%. Clearly, then, favoring the public option was the centrist position, but in DC-think that was well to the left. Now imagine the level of support — 95%? — for the right of people aged, say, 50-65 who cannot get health insurance through an employer to buy into Medicare. Are you hearing any Democrats, even the ones in tight races, advocating a policy like that even though its public support would be overwhelming? I doubt that the DNC, DSCC or DCCC would even allow that or even allow Democratic candidates to mention a “public option” at all (and allow the candidate to keep their funding).
Then there’s progressive taxation and closing corporate tax loopholes. The DC political elite consider this complicated and leaning too populist. Republicans will call it “class warfare,” and DC-based Demoicrats are always scared to death of what Republicans will say. The national public, however, is squarely behind taking these actions.
At the policy level, at least on economic issues like these, the “center-left” public is actually a lot closer to left than to center. But those who have a vested interest in a different description will pretend that is not true, and they are the ones with the megaphones.
It would be interesting to see what it would cost a 40 to 50 year old to buy into Medicare versus private insurance assuming the buy-in cost covers all Medicare costs for the buy-in people just like private insurance premiums cover all private insurance costs.
I am assuming that with no profit-taking, low executive compensation and a huge pool, it would be lower. For people 50-64, which could be a toe in the water, re-employability these days seems to drop like a rock.
Although ACA makes policies for older Americans “affordable” by limiting the multiple that can be applied for age, they are still fairly expensive policies for those who aren’t well outside the tax credits range. A public option — the theoretically lowest cost possible — seemed like a philosophical necessity if the law is going to require purchase. Surely any promises made to affected industries in 2008 and 2009 to prevent their opposition — insurance companies, for-profit hospitals, drug manufacturers — have expired by now, and in any case should not be imposed on candidates for office who could use such a proposal to draw a clear contrast with a Republican opponent.
ISTM that in this case the appropriate statistic would be the mode. Why not wanting to describe, say, raising taxes on the wealthy as the moderate or center position is an exercise I’ll leave to the reader 😉