Yet, even as more Americans identify themselves as independents — not Democrats or Republicans — there is a painfully sharp decline in moderate and independent voices in both houses of Congress. It is also true that everywhere but Capitol Hill more people are moving away from conservative or liberal labels in favor of calling themselves moderates.
The death of the political middle is the defining shift taking place in American politics today. It is ending the tradition of political leadership that rises above ideology, region, party, religion and even race to attain statesmanship. And it is weakening the two-party system.
Here are the numbers:
According to a Pew Poll from last month, 26 percent of Americans identify as Republican, 32 percent say they are Democrats and a plurality of 36 percent call themselves independents. A January 2012 Gallup poll found that 40 percent of Americans self-identify as conservative, 35 percent as moderate and 21 percent as liberal.
Yet even as more citizens go to the middle, the politicians are marching to the political extremes.
Now, with the retirement of Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe after 33 years of service in Congress, the GOP caucus will become more conservative still. Moderates will have even less of a voice in the halls of Congress.
For last year, VoteView ranked Snowe as the most moderate Republican senator. This ranking mirrors that of National Journal’s congressional scorecard last year, which gave Snowe a composite liberal score of 45 out of 100 and a composite conservative score of 55 out of 100. Both VoteView and the National Journal also ranked Nebraska’s Ben Nelson as the most moderate Democrat senator. Nelson announced his retirement earlier this year.
In an interview after her announcement, Snowe cited “the frustrations that exist with the political system here in Washington, where it’s dysfunctional, and the political paralysis has overtaken the environment to the detriment of the good of this country.
“I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term,” she added.