March 21, 2011

Newsweek's The Mindless Middle

Doug Schoen is a Democratic pollster who often appears on Fox News. In his recent article in Newsweek, The Mindless Middle, he points out that conservative and liberal 'fringe' elements seem to know their history, politics and government, it's the middle swath of voters who remain clueless and don't seem to care.

More than lacking knowledge, a lot of Americans, particularly in the middle, have completely tuned out. And given how little they know, it will be hard to get them back. Here’s the most telling number: Americans who vote regularly in elections tested above average—68 percent passed—but among the one in 10 who told us they weren’t interested in exercising their franchise, just 26 percent would qualify to be citizens of their own country.
Mindless indeed. What blew my mind were those self-classified as both conservative and Democrat. What is so astonishing about that?

Parsing those numbers further, what we see is engagement at each party’s base. A solid 70 percent of conservative Republicans passed, followed by 61 percent of GOP moderates and 55 percent of GOP liberals. For Democrats, it was the opposite: liberals and moderates proved better informed, with 62 percent of both groups passing, but just 36 percent of conservative Democrats did so. In other words, conservative Democrats pulled down the numbers for both their ideology and their party, while the centers of both parties were the least engaged.
It's not really surprising that they scored so low - to be a conservative is to not vote Democrat. So it's no surprise that they didn't score well enough to qualify for citizenship if they had to do so. No, what's really surprising is how well liberal Republicans did in comparison. 55% of liberal Republicans passed while only 36% of conservative Democrats.

Sure it means liberal Republicans know more, but it also means that there are fewer opportunities for Republicans to educate and convince conservative voters who are Democrat to switch to the GOP than there are for Democrats to siphon off liberal Republicans. The assumption is that if they passed the citizenship test, they would be relatively engaged already and less likely to switch parties. Those who failed (36% of conservative Democrats and 55% of liberal Republicans) are potential targets for the other party.

That may be cause for alarm, but it might not be either. After all, they're all disengaged.  They might not be worth the effort to chase.  Perhaps more importantly, it's not clear from the survey the relative size of those segments compared to the overall population. I can't imagine there is a massive population of liberal Republicans - it only seems that way sometimes.


  1. More interesting to me would be a further split of the numbers, using income as part of the equation. In other words: of those making $100K or more and identifying themselves as conservative republican vs. liberal democrat; of those making $50K - $100 k; of those making 20K to 50K; and those below $20K. It would be a more realistic view of knowledge, split by income level (which also has a connection to level of education).

  2. Any demographic split is interesting to me, being as that relates to the business I'm in during my day job. However, it's likely too broad a brush stroke to relate income to education. It's even worse to relate education to knowledge (or worse still intelligence). Education can serve as a proxy for many things but not all equally well.

    Not all education is equal, and not all education is centered in facts. Progressive liberal educators can distort the understanding of students in the direction they choose - particularly if the students are not already schooled in critical thinking.

    While it would be an interesting breakdown I would not immediately assign specific meaning to the findings.


Disagreement is always welcome. Please remain civil. Vulgar or disrespectful comments towards anyone will be removed.

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