The Corner

What Center-Right Means

Recognizing that the term might well mean different things to different people, I’ve always understood the statement “America is a Center-Right nation” to refer to the relative ease of forming electoral coalitions. While the exact percentages have varied a bit over the years, polls show that there are about 1.5 to 2 self-identified conservatives for every self-identified liberal in the American electorate. Self-identified moderates or centrists form a plurality of voters, typically in the 40-45 percent range.

If you drew a bar graph depicting these three ideological categories and then drew a line through the midpoint of the “centrist” bloc, it would be located on the right side of the graph. In other words, liberals must recruit more larger numbers of centrist voters into their coalition to achieve an electoral majority. Obviously, this is entirely achievable. But it’s harder here than it is in much of Europe, where a similarly constituted chart would place the midpoint of the centrist bloc on the left of the graph.

Of course, this is all a simplification of a complex set of political opinions and preferences. People mean different things by the terms “conservative,” “liberal,” and “moderate.” Some self-described moderates mix free market economics with social liberalism, and are essentially pragmatic libertarians. Some mix anti-corporate economic views with social conservatism, and are essentially populists. Some are hawks whose domestic policy views are Democratic. Some are dovish whose domestic policy views are Republican. Some possess an eclectic mix of interests and issues that don’t form any kind of coherent picture. But projects to cluster American voters by philosophical categories defined by pollsters, rather than by voters themselves, still typically find that truly right-of-center voters outnumber truly left-of-center voters.

John Hood is a syndicated columnist and the president of the John William Pope Foundation, a North Carolina–based grantmaker.

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