Monday, November 27, 2006

Lopsided Centrism

Thought I was done with the Lieberman numbers? Far from it. Because some of those centrist-types I mentioned in the last post had another criticism of my numbers. Sure, perhaps Dems rejected Lieberman, they said, but that’s just because he wasn’t the Dem candidate. Somehow, that fact alone wasn’t enough for them to realize that Dems didn’t like Joe anymore. But no. They didn’t like the idea of using Party ID to see how close to the center someone is.

And the point was that “centrism” and being in the center wasn’t really about being in the middle of the two parties, but rather an ideological question between liberals and conservatives. And this, I believe, is just mistaken. Because guys like Joe aren’t dealing with the big issues of economics and policy, scouring texts for proper middle theory that explains how to best navigate America’s destiny. It’s really about splitting the difference between Republicans and Democrats in Congress. About finding compromise between the two sides.

They’re not trying to balance FDR’s liberalism with Goldwater’s conservativism. They’re trying to figure out how to get bills passed in an exceedingly right-leaning political world, to retain support from their media and corporate cohorts without offending the rest of America, which isn’t nearly as right-leaning. And too often for centrists, that just means that they get as close to the Republican position while staying slightly to the left. Unless they’re Republican centrists, in which case they have to wring their hands at the fact that Republicans can’t be a touch more moderate, before casting meaningless votes that won’t change a damn thing.

And so that was one reason why I picked Party ID from those exit polls as a way of showing Joe’s right-of-center leanings. Plus, there’s the fact that labels like “Liberal”, “Conservative”, and “Moderate” are really quite subjective. One person’s Moderate is another person’s Liberal or Conservative, and some people who really belong on one side like to believe that they’re actually Moderate. Calling oneself “Democrat” or “Republican” is fairly straight-forward (though many who always vote Republican like to claim to be Independents), but ideological labels are even more subjective.

But whatever. As I said before, all this is utterly unprovable to these sorts of people, because they need to hide behind vagueness and reverse-engineered theorems. So let’s just turn to the numbers. They didn’t like the party identifiers, so how do ideological identifiers show Lieberman? Were there many liberal Independents who swung towards Lieberman? Or were the Lieberman Republicans merely moderates, with the hardcore conservatives rejecting him for the “extremist” Schlesinger? In a word: No.

And remember, it was Joe’s supporters who first suggested that the election results proved Joe’s position in the center of the political spectrum. Yet they hadn’t even looked at the numbers.

Bring Out the Numbers

Here’s that same CNN Exit Poll:

Liberals (26%):
Lieberman - 27%
Lamont - 69%
Schlesinger - 3%

Moderates (53%):
Lieberman - 55%
Lamont - 36%
Schlesinger - 8%

Conservatives (21%):
Lieberman - 66%
Lamont - 13%
Schlesinger - 21%

My my. What do we have here. Self-described Liberals rejected Lieberman at a slightly higher rate than Democrats had, and Lieberman crushed Schlesinger with self-described Conservatives; who were his strongest supporters. And note, Lamont’s 13% of Conservatives really isn’t too far off from Schlesinger’s 21%, as compared with Lieberman’s 66%.

And so combined with the Party ID numbers in the previous post, we see Liberals and Democrats rejecting Lieberman, gaining more support from Moderates and Independents, and with the strongest support coming from Conservatives and Republicans. Whereas a centrist should show a Bell Curve-like hump, getting primary support from the middle and rejection from the two extremes; instead, we see a relatively straight line, with rejection on one extreme and strong support from the other.

So what the hell kind of centrism is this? I mean, in the messageboard I was on, many of “centrists” clearly implied that both Lamont and Schlesinger were extremists, taken as proven because one was a Democrat and the other a Republican. So Lieberman must have been in the middle. But if he was, his conservative voters didn’t know that. Because they preferred Lieberman by a wide margin over the “extremist” candidate. I mean, it would have been telling if they had split the conservative vote. But this was a blow-out. Lieberman got almost as many Conservative voters as Lamont got Liberals. And if Lamont’s an unabashed liberal, then Lieberman’s got to be some kind of conservative.

The Extremes

But there’s more to this than the subjective ideological labels, right? I mean, a Connecticut conservative isn’t the same as a Texas one, right? That was another argument given against these numbers, and there’s something to that. So how about the flavor of Lieberman’s conservative Republican voters? Are they bland, middle-of-the-road Conservatives, or are they the same fruitcakes we’re dealing with every day? Short answer: Same damn fruitcakes.

Here’s a rundown of the extreme positions on that exit poll, and surprise, surprise, the far-right extreme voted for Lieberman and the far-left extreme rejected Lieberman. Even worse, the far-left positions easily outnumbered the far-right positions; showing the rightwing position to be even further from the mainstream. Yet they were Lieberman’s strongest supporters. We’ve been told repeatedly that Dems showed their liberal fringe-side by dumping Joe in the primary; yet the exit polls make one thing clear: The Left Fringe is far more mainstream than the Right Fringe.

In parenthesis, I’m putting the total number of people who hold those positions, so you can see how extreme they are. The numbers on the right are the percentage of these voters who voted for Lieberman.

Wants Republicans to Control Senate (29%): 76%
Wants Democrats to Control Senate (55%): 31%

Voted Today to Support Bush (15%): 72%
Voted Today to Oppose Bush (40%): 17%

Lieberman Does Not Agree with Bush Enough (9%): 66%
Lieberman Does Agree with Bush Enough (42%): 82%
Lieberman Agrees with Bush Too Much (44%): 13%

Strongly Approve of Bush (12%): 66%
Strongly Disapprove of Bush (49%): 31%

Strongly Approve of Iraq War (12%): 77%
Strongly Disapprove of Iraq War (46%): 28%

Send More Troops to Iraq (15%): 72%
Withdrawal All Troops from Iraq (31%): 29%

And no, those aren’t a special sampling of a few issues that happened to go in Lieberman’s direction. Those are every one. Every exit poll question that could identify a far-right extremist position showed that these people voted for Lieberman. And as the numbers in parenthesis shows, those really are the extreme positions in Connecticut and totally out of the mainstream. Yet they supported Lieberman. And the other extreme was far more popular, yet rejected Lieberman.

Overall, it’s clear. Joe got a huge portion of his votes from the far, far right. As I said, those people should be as much against Lieberman as people on the other side. But it’s not even close. His strongest support wasn’t from moderates, but from far-right extremists. And the far-left people who were far more representative than their far-right equivalents roundly rejected Lieberman.


I wrote one more section comparing these positions with Ohio and Nebraska, to show that even conservative states like Nebraska don’t have such a far-right agenda as Lieberman’s strongest supporters; and how “battleground” states like Ohio look more like Connecticut than Nebraska. And that would once again show how far to the right Lieberman is. Because America’s political spectrum isn’t nearly as far to the right as Congress’s. But I had to cut that section because it was too long.

And sure, maybe all this is crap. Maybe this has more to do with Fox News and other rightwing blowhards telling their sheep-like followers to vote for Joe simply because that helped the President more. But that alone should be disconcerting for Joe’s centrist supporters. But maybe it’s meaningless. Maybe these numbers were a fluke of this particular election and not a reflection on Joe. Then we really can’t use these election results at all.

But Joe’s supporters did want to use the election results as proof, and without even having seen them. They “knew” that this election proved Joe was in the middle, and weren’t even the least bit surprised at learning exactly how thoroughly the left had rejected Joe, or how much the right embraced him. The exact numbers themselves apparently fit within the normal threshold and shouldn’t be of concern to us. It’s enough to know that Joe’s numbers showed slightly more variability than the typical partisan’s, even if it did put him strongly on the right-side of the aisle. And so this did nothing but confirm what they already believed, which was utter crap to begin with.

I, on the other hand, had expected to see strong support from conservatives, but was still surprised at how one-sided the whole thing was. The "centrists" kept insisting that these numbers would match the few other centrists in Congress, yet nobody came close to Joe's oddball numbers, and they certainly made him look fairly rightwing. And sure, most of Joe’s votes did come from the middle, but that’s just because the middle is the biggest group and Joe’s supporters had promised them all that that’s where Joe was. They were told that Lamont was dangerous and Schlesinger wasn’t an option. But when we actually look at the numbers, it sure doesn’t look like he was the man for them.

And the fact that one of the extremes rejected Joe as much as the other embraced him should surely alter the "centrists" opinions of Joe's centrism. But it doesn't. And in many ways, that denial of reality is perhaps what makes Joe and his supporters look most Republican of all.

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