“Third Way” Looks the Wrong Way: Says Dems Must Woo Moderates They Already Have

I find this memo from Third Way (PDF) to be comically poorly timed. No surprise they mine any and all data points to claim the need for Democrats to move to the right, but they also claim the path to victory this November is not rallying the liberal base, but winning over the moderates–despite the fact that Democrats have already won over moderates:

The upshot: Moderates matter more than ever.

Democrats can compensate for the votes lost to a larger conservative base by wooing moderates. Moreover, in states with a hotly contested match-up, Democratic candidates need a majority of moderate votes—if not a super-majority—to win or maintain a seat. To preserve their fortunes this fall, Democrats should focus as much (or more) on moderates as they do their liberal base.


Democrats are right to focus on their base. But just as important to the fortunes of Democrats this fall are moderates. While the middle has always played a pivotal role in American electoral politics, where they swing this fall will certainly decide the fate of the Democratic majority.

The irony is that, right now, Democrats are facing massive losses this November and they are actually doing extremely well with self-described moderates. According to Tom Jensen at Public Policy Polling, Democrats are winning over moderates by a two-to-one margin:

Barack Obama defeated John McCain 60-39 with self described moderates, according to the national exit poll. Our last national generic ballot poll found Democrats ahead 58-28, showing no improvement whatsoever

It’s a similar story in some of the closest Senate races. Obama only won moderates 51-46 in West Virginia. Joe Manchin has a 29 point advantage over John Raese with them. In Colorado Obama won them 63-35…Michael Bennet leads Ken Buck by a pretty identical 56-32. In Nevada his advantage was 64-33…and Harry Reid led Sharron Angle 64-28 with them on our last poll.

The fact that Republicans are winning this election without showing much appeal to moderates is another reminder that the main reason for the pending GOP onslaught is the disengagement of Democratic voters. Conservatives will make up a much larger portion of the electorate this year than they did in 2008 and that’s put Republicans in a position to make big gains without even having to develop a message that’s appealing to the center.

Winning over moderates has not saved the Democratic party this year. Despite the false narrative that is almost sure to follow this election, the problem is not that the Democratic party has moved too far to the left. Voters who consider themselves moderates overwhelmingly prefer Democrats. The problem is that voters that support Republicans are extremely excited to vote while the Democratic party has not made the moderates and liberals that support them excited about keeping them in.

Of course, the problem with this analysis is multi-fold. First, on semantics. The Republican Party has actively embraced the label of “conservative,” while the Democrats have shunned the “liberal” moniker. With most Democratic officials not calling themselves “liberal,” it is no surprise that even voters who support Democratic policies might not think of themselves as liberals. “Liberal” is also an old term, most of the left’s leadership has taken up the title of “progressive.”

More importantly, on a policy front the country is dramatically to the left of what dominates Washington, DC, thinking. A health insurance public option, prescription drug re-importation, ending “don’t ask, don’t tell,” closing the hedge fund managers’ tax loophole–and more–all have the support of huge majorities of the American people despite the idea that these are supposedly “too leftist” to get passed by the Democratic party in Washington. Hell, a plurality of the country actually wants a distribution of wealth resembling socialist Sweden.

Almost every economist will now admit that progressives were right when they said the stimulus was too small. With 9.6 percent unemployment and jobs being the top issue for almost all voters, there should be little doubt that Democrats would be better off politically if they had been more liberal and pursued a larger stimulus. Democrats are not being punished this election for ideology, they are being punished for incompetence in the face of a economic crisis.

This Third Way memo is just the first in what is sure to be a wave of advice from corporatists about how the midterms prove Democrats suffered from liberal overreach, and so need to move to the right (i.e. more tax cuts for the rich). Just remember this: moderates actually prefer Democrats to Republicans. The problem this election year is that Democrats didn’t give their supporters, regardless of ideology, a strong reason vote for them.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at