Esquire's 'new American center' isn't very centrist

Shutterstock.com

Article Highlights

  • Politicians and strategists will find useful information in the pollsters' picture of the new American center.

    Tweet This

  • The center seems to be more hostile than the general public to a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

    Tweet This

  • The pollsters divided Americans into eight groups based on their responses to the poll questions.

    Tweet This

  • The "new centrists" look like 1990s Ross Perot voters: disproportionately irreligious and white.

    Tweet This

NBC News and Esquire magazine commissioned two polling companies to collect data on Americans' views and slice and dice them to discover a "new American center."

This center, it turns out, opposes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, favors gay marriage and legal abortion in the first three months of pregnancy, and wants to end affirmative action in colleges. With allowances for the emergence of same-sex marriage as an issue, the "new centrists" look a lot like the people who voted for Ross Perot in the early 1990s: They're disproportionately irreligious and white.

The pollsters divided Americans into eight groups based on their responses to the poll questions: two liberal groups, two conservative groups and four in between. They aggregated those four groups to see what the center thinks about various issues.

This method yields a center with views that are different from those of the median voter. On social issues, especially, the "center" the pollsters found is to the left of the public as a whole.

Respondents were given six options on abortion, for example, ranging from a complete ban to legality throughout pregnancy for any reason. Forty-eight percent of all respondents picked the three relatively pro-life answers, but only 36 percent of the "center" did. The "center" voted for President Barack Obama by a higher margin than the general public, too (although some of that discrepancy may be people "remembering" that they backed the winner, which often happens in polls).

Why does the center skew left on these issues? Because a left-leaning subgroup is excluded from it: what the poll calls the "Gospel Left," 54 percent of whom chose one of the pro-life options. Most members of this group are black. Over and over in the survey results, you see a familiar story: Social conservatives are underrepresented in the center because so many black social conservatives aren't up-for-grabs voters but rather very loyal Democrats.

The center seems to be a bit more hostile than the general public to a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants for a slightly different reason. Here the numbers are skewed by very strong support from one of the liberal groups, variously identified by the pollsters as "young liberals" or "bleeding hearts," who are also excluded from the center: 51 percent of them strongly agree that Congress should create such a path, compared with 16 percent of the total population and 12 percent of the center.

Politicians and strategists will find useful information in the pollsters' picture of the new American center. Just don't confuse it for a picture of the middle of American society.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor at National Review.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Ramesh
Ponnuru

What's new on AEI

Love people, not pleasure
image Oval Office lacks resolve on Ukraine
image Middle East Morass: A public opinion rundown of Iraq, Iran, and more
image Verizon's Inspire Her Mind ad and the facts they didn't tell you
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Monday, July 21, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Closing the gaps in health outcomes: Alternative paths forward

Please join us for a broader exploration of targeted interventions that provide real promise for reducing health disparities, limiting or delaying the onset of chronic health conditions, and improving the performance of the US health care system.

Monday, July 21, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Comprehending comprehensive universities

Join us for a panel discussion that seeks to comprehend the comprehensives and to determine the role these schools play in the nation’s college completion agenda.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 | 8:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Who governs the Internet? A conversation on securing the multistakeholder process

Please join AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy for a conference to address key steps we can take, as members of the global community, to maintain a free Internet.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Expanding opportunity in America: A conversation with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan

Please join us as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveils a new set of policy reforms aimed at reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility throughout America.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 6:00 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.
Is it time to end the Export-Import Bank?

We welcome you to join us at AEI as POLITICO’s Ben White moderates a lively debate between Tim Carney, one of the bank’s fiercest critics, and Tony Fratto, one of the agency’s staunchest defenders.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.