The Rise of the Middle in the Era of “Hybrid” Politics
Not so long ago, voting age Americans were either Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative, and a climate change denier or a bunny hugger. It was deemed safe to stake out a position at one end of the political spectrum or the other, under the assumption that most people were not “lost” somewhere in the middle, but were, rather, at one extreme or the other. If you were pro-gun you were also probably pro-life and anti-immigrant, and if you were against fracking you were also likely to be pro-choice and in favor of gay rights. Some Americans still fall neatly into these categories, but in general, it has become more difficult to label people, or their stance on any number of issues, simply by virtue of the fact that they may generally be either Liberal or Conservative. We are witnessing the rise of the middle in the era of hybrid politics.
Consider this – as extreme partisanship and divisiveness becomes even further entrenched in the American political psyche, Americans are living in a decidedly more complex country where issues that were previously in the background have moved to the foreground and vice versa. For example, some aspects of America’s immigration policies, which have been firmly entrenched and have remained largely unquestioned for decades, are now front and center, whether it is the relatively unimpeded flow of illegal immigrants from its southern border or Hondurans who came to the US 20 years ago because of the economic damage of Hurricane Mitch and never left. Most Americans knew little about the intricacies of such issues, nor did they necessarily care, but today, being bombarded as we are by headlines about them in the news, we develop a point of view where we may not have had one before.
You might have been a Conservative and voted for President Trump in 2016, but because your cousin is Honduran and will soon be deported, you have sworn never to vote for him again – or any other Republican candidate for that matter. You may be a fiscal conservative but a social liberal, you may have been a life-long Republican but hate Trump and now reject the Republican Party, or you may always have voted Democrat but are so disgusted with the Democratic Party’s sclerotic senior leadership that you will vote as an Independent in the next election. Where does that leave you on the Democrat versus Republican, Liberal versus Conservative scale?
We have all undoubtedly been surprised to learn about the political leanings of our some of our friends and family in the Trump era. People we thought we knew, it turns out, we did not know so well after all. We have all heard of friends and marriages that have broken apart because of the 2016 election. Many of us remain afraid to even speak about politics or sensitive issues related to it for fear that we may risk starting a relationship, not getting hired, or ending a friendship if we did so. But I suspect it is also true to say that most people actually subscribe to some of the policy platforms and belief systems on both sides of the political spectrum.
For example, how many Americans do you think you will find who are against strong borders, a robust military, or in favor of a foreign power meddling in US elections? How many do you know who think Congress is doing a terrific job or that America’s relationship with the rest of the world is just fine and wouldn’t change a thing? Would anyone you know who came to the US as a legal immigrant say that it is perfectly alright with them if as many illegal immigrants came to this country as wanted to do so?You get my point. It is easy to say you may not like Trump, but not so easy to say that you dislike everything he stands for – and I am saying that as an Independent who did not vote for Hillary but voted against Trump.
As I said in an article that I wrote in advance of Trump’s election (yes, I predicted he would win) and published within an hour of him being declared the winner in 2016, “If Mr. Trump can deliver on half of what he has promised, I may even consider voting for him if he runs in 4 years.” I said that, despising him as I did (and still do) because I felt I no longer had the luxury of pigeon holing myself into a category that I knew did not actually represent the totality of my own views.
I reiterate that belief today, but suggest, in addition, that many Americans who consider themselves to be on one side of the political spectrum or the other, actually are not, if they were to break the issues down. They are likelier to find that they are part Conservative and part Liberal, and that the classification of being a Democrat or Republican actually no longer fits their own narrative.
That is why I am suggesting that what is also occurring – silently and behind the scenes in America – is the rise of a new breed of voter: those in the middle who defy simple categorization and are in reality a hybrid of Liberalism and Conservatism. They may be staunchly Republican but viscerally disagree with some of the central tenets of the current Republican Party platform. They may be gay Democrats who happen to embrace parts of that same Republican Party platform. Or they may be believers in the Second Amendment who absolutely oppose the NRA because of its stance on automatic weapons.
If you take out a piece of paper and put 10 political issues that are important to you on one side and the words “Republican” or “Democrat” on the top, then categorize them, most of you are likely to find that you, too, are a hybrid of both. If my contention is correct, and enough voters get fed up enough with the political status quo in the mid-terms and the next presidential election to say that neither Party actually represents their belief system, we may just find that the 40% of American voters who are already Independent turns into 50% or 60% in the near term. I am willing to bet that in spite of all the hype about most Americans being firmly in one political camp or the other, that most Americans are actually middle ground voters who form part of the emerging hybrid political class. Whether they choose to remain affiliated with either the Democrat or Republican Parties in the future remains to be seen. Stay tuned.