A somewhat reassuring message from polling guru John Zogby: Americans are returning to centrist politics— in their droves.
Speaking yesterday at Chatham house, Zogby recalled how in 2004 political moderation in the US was “on sabbatical.” The climate was so hyper-partisan that a full 9 months before the election, only 5 per cent of voters said they were undecided. It was, he said, an “armaggeddon election.”
Just four years later, however, roughly 35 per cent of Americans are still undecided on how they will vote. And even among those who are committed, views have become more moderate. Rove’s right-wing Christian alliance of “guns, God and gonads” has crumbled as the faithful have become increasingly worried about poverty, healthcare and global warming (framed as the “damage man has done to God’s earth”).
Part of this change comes from obvious circumstances. The downturn in the economy, Iraq fatigue, and the federal government’s abject failure to protect its citizens in the face of a seismic natural disaster (Katrina) have produced a fundamental crisis in confidence in the existing system of government. Eighty per cent of Americans think that the US is “headed in the wrong direction”: higher even than it was during the height of the Watergate scandal. But while people are angry, they are not bitter, Zogby emphasised: instead, they are participating more in politics, and rallying behind candidates who offer new political visions—McCain and Obama. (Like any sensible statistician, Zogby has already ruled Clinton out of the race).
While he would not be drawn on who will win the final contest, he did emphasise that Obama does not have a monopoly on “change”, and it will serve the Democratic strategists well to remember this when they turn their attention to the November battle. As much as they might try to portray McCain as Bush Mark II, he is anything but: he has acquired a reputation as a maverick, an iconoclast—and, crucially, as a moderate who is willing to work with opponents in order to get things done. And bipartisanship is what Americans are now really looking for.
He also suggested that this election could end the red/blue paradigm. Because both candidates have crossover appeal, while remaining unpopular with large segments of their own parties (Obama with older white Democrats, McCain with Republicans in the Bible belt), Zogby forsees a number of current red states like Colarado, New Mexico, Iowa and Virginia…