The Corner

Politics & Policy

Constructing a ‘Majority’

A recent report on the “Hidden Tribes” in American politics has gotten a lot of press, with respectful attention coming from The Atlantic, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and The New Yorker, among others. Columnists have been particularly interested in the “Exhausted Majority” that the report discusses.

The report segments Americans into seven “tribes,” from “Progressive Activists” on the Left to “Dedicated Conservatives” on the Right. David Brooks writes a bit about these extremes and then notes, “The good news is that once you get outside these two elite groups you find a lot more independent thinking and flexibility. This is not a 50-50 nation. It only appears that way when disenchanted voters are forced to choose between the two extreme cults.

“Roughly two-thirds of Americans, across four political types, fall into what the authors call “the exhausted majority.”

You may notice that lopping off the two extreme tribes should leave you with five, not four, groups in the middle. The reason the “Exhausted Majority” consists of four groups is that the report lops off three tribes, not just two. Gone are the Progressive Activists (8 percent of the public) and the Devoted Conservatives (6 percent), but also gone are the Traditional Conservatives (19 percent), who include more people than the two extremes put together.

So the “Exhausted Majority” consists of an American public from which America’s most left-wing 8 percent and most right-wing 25 percent have been removed — which is to say that it is a majority whose center is significantly to the left of the actual country’s center.

Thus Axios’s write-up explains that 14 percent of the public “consistently shouts” about its extreme political views “while 67% of us are exhausted” by all their shouting. These numbers don’t add up to 100 percent because the “Traditional Conservatives” — who are, based on the report’s own numbers, about a fifth of the country, the largest group of politically engaged Americans, and the majority of all American conservatives — are just ignored.

The report justifies its treatment of the tribes by noting that the Traditional Conservatives have views closer to those of the Dedicated Conservatives than to those of the four tribes in the Exhausted Majority. But as Kristen Soltis Anderson — the only columnist I’ve seen who has put a spotlight on the way this report has sliced the data — points out in the Washington Examiner, on many issues, the “Traditional Conservatives” are closer to the public’s view than their liberal counterparts.

Anderson does not dismiss the report as devoid of interest. But anyone seeking to glean something about our country’s majority should keep in mind that the report has excluded three times as many Americans on the Right as on the Left.

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

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