Wednesday, April 18, 2012

More polarization likely in upcoming primaries

Olympia Snowe isn't the only moderate that likely won't return for the 113th Congress, according to The National Journal's Josh Kraushaar.  In a column published last night, Kraushaar examines the upcoming primary struggles of Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Congressman Tim Holden (D-PA) and delivers a negative prognosis for their success in the primaries.

Kraushaar blames the standard origins of gridlock--partisan redistricting, primaries, and ideological homogenization of the parties.  He applies these concepts to the cases of Lugar and Holden, but goes on to look at the broader, longer-term implications for the futures of both parties. Kraushaar, I think rightly, suggests that Democrats have more to lose by following this path of polarization. Nationally, Conservatives outnumber Liberals 2-1, so the Dem's have less room to pick up votes by catering to their base.

Kraushaar imagines that the persistance of moderate voters in the absence of moderate leaders will force the parties to come back to the middle to win victories eventually, but I'm not so certain.  Parties win campaigns by getting their base to show up and keeping their opponent's base at home.  Political strategists find wedge issues that nicely divide up the voters in favor of one candidate or another, and extremism yields more news coverage and campaign contributions. I would like to see a shift back to the middle, but I'm not sure it will happen without some changes to the rules (primaries, redistricting) that govern the game.  One thing that is certain, however, is that this year's Congressional primaries are going to be hard on moderate candidates.

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