lighthouse hatteras

So often we hear that North Carolina is becoming a more “moderate” state. In-migrants to North Carolina are often from the Northeast or other areas and are more “moderate”. What does this mean?

Do not be confused if you hear someone identify their political orientation as “moderate”. You might think that this is a swing voter, someone who goes both ways and can be persuaded to vote for one party over the other.

That is definitely not the case.

In the United States there are three political orientations – conservative, liberal, and moderate. The term ‘progressive’ has begun to displace the term liberal. Progressive is a wonderful word. Who could ever be opposed to progressive policies? Only someone opposed to progress!

But let’s leave ‘progressive’ out of the equation. Liberal, moderate, or conservative. Which are you? A plurality of Americans will identify as conservatives. This is important – one cannot win an election from conservatives alone! This is the mistake that the Tea Partiers make. Failure to reach out to moderates will result in electoral failure. Only in very conservatives states are their exceptions to this rule.

In surveys, it is often found that there are almost twice the amount of self-described conservatives as self-described liberals. Nationally, conservatives are about 40% of the population; liberals about 20%. If this is the case, why do we have a liberal Democratic President? Why do we have a Democratic Senate? Why aren’t conservatives dominating all sectors of the government?

The answer: moderates. It’s all about them, who can appeal to their interests. But they’re moderates, right? They should break down pretty evenly, Republican and Democrat.

Wrong. First of all, a lot of people who self-identify as moderate aren’t really moderate at all. Some ‘moderates’ have voted a straight Democratic ticket for years! The fact of the matter is, a lot of these moderates are actually liberals who don’t know it.

An interesting dynamic happens in survey taking. Ask people if they’re liberal, moderate, or conservative. Then, divide the categories into very liberal, somewhat liberal, moderate, somewhat conservative, and very conservative. What happens? The number of moderates shrinks drastically, and the ‘somewhat’ numbers go up – especially the ‘somewhat liberal’ category. Turns out that people don’t like being caled liberal, but ‘somewhat liberal’? That’s a whole different ball game.

According to the latest PPP poll, North Carolinians identified themselves in this manner:

11% Very Liberal
18% Somewhat Liberal
29% Moderate
23% Somewhat Conservative
20% Very Conservative

Note that this is a poll of registered voters, not likely voters, so this represents a kind of worst-case scenario for conservatives. And even in the worst-case scenario, conservatives still compose 43% of the electorate. Not enough to win, of course – still, a seriously flawed candidate (think Todd Akin) can still expect to win 43% of the vote in North Carolina, no matter what. Assuming that all the self-identified conservatives vote Republican, only about a quarter of moderates are needed for victory. For comparison, the latest PPP poll for the presidential race in North Carolina found Mitt Romney winning 32% of moderates. He narrowly won the state.

Going by the exit polls from last November, North Carolinians identified themselves as the following:

22% Liberal
38% Moderate
40% Conservative

This roughly mirrors the PPP results, except the moderate percentage is notably higher (hint: many of them are closet liberals!). According to the exit polls, Romney lost moderates by 15% (57-42).

What’s the point of this post? In North Carolina, like most states, moderates rule. A candidate, like Romney, can still lose with moderates and win the state, but it makes their job a lot harder. With the Republicans moving far to the right, Democrats have reclaimed the moderate mantle, and that has massive implications for our nation’s politial future.

With growth from all parts of the country, particularly the Northeast, Tar Heels are becoming more moderate. Continuing to alienate moderates is a recipe for disaster for the Republican Party. This does not mean, however, that Republicans have to abandon their core principles. Instead, they should make an effort to make their case to moderate voters instead of preaching to the choir. More on this later. Next time, we’ll examine the nuances behind Republicans, Democrats, and Independents in North Carolina.

John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns. When not writing about politics, he enjoys gardening and listening to opera. Contact: johncwynne@gmail.com.

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