These Two Charts Show the Incredible Disappearing Center in American Politics

  • submit to reddit

“It’s not news that the ideological middle in Congress is disappearing,” writes Chris Cillizza in today’s Washington Post. “But rarely have I ever seen it so starkly documented as in these two slides courtesy of Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, a lobbying firm here in DC.”

Cillizza explains:

Using National Journal’s annual vote ratings, the slides compare the most liberal Republican and the most conservative Democrat and count the number of Members in between those two poles.

Here’s how that looks in the House from 1982 -2013:

In the last three decades, the number of members in the middle in the House dropped from 344 (79 percent of the House) in 1982 to four (.9 percent of the House) in 2013. As the slide suggests, redistricting — the decennial re-drawing of the nation’s Congressional lines — plays a major role in that decline. The last two nationwide re-draws have largely been incumbent protection efforts, making Republican districts more Republican and Democratic districts more Democratic. Self-sorting — the growing tendency of people to live around like-minded people — is also a major factor in the disappearance of the ideological middle in the House.

More intriguing — and harder to explain — is how the middle has dropped out of the Senate, which is not subject to redistricting and, because Senators represent entire states, self-sorting should be less powerful. And yet, here’s the Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti slide on the partisanship in the world’s greatest deliberative body:

Read the rest of Cillizza’s article at The Washington Post.

In the post, Cillizza doesn’t mention what may be the most important political trend of our time: the asymmetric nature of our contemporary polarization. Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker used a system called DW-NOMINATE, which measures how far from the center lawmakers’ votes fell, for his 2006 book, Off Center. In it, he noted that since 1975, Senate Republicans have moved twice as far to the right as their Democratic counterparts moved to the left. In the House of Representatives that trend has been even more pronounced. Hacker found that Republicans in the lower chamber had shifted six times further to the right than their Democratic counterparts went to the left over that same period.

  • submit to reddit
  • Anonymous

    That is excellent. Why have two political parties if there is no distinction between them?

  • Just Wondering

    there is a huge difference between them…. But cash “Bribes” smear that line… Money talks and Right and Wrong Walk’s

  • edwinna

    Amazing. Everybody says there is no difference between the GOP and the DEMS. Yet there is almost no overlapping of their votes, and we are in gridlock. And of course, the gridlock favors all the good things in place for the 1%, and leaves all the neglect in place for the rest of us. So, who is the gridlock, status quo favoring? And why aren’t things changing for the better?

  • Peter Breyfogle

    They agree to protect each other from any viable 3rd parties. They are both comfortable with the gridlock. They are equivalent in their ineffectiveness and they both support horrible foreign policy and drug laws. Maybe at the end of this one of them will actually evolve to something that I can support.

  • Alpha Wolf

    “Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity”

    “The Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats

  • Cynthia Holdeman

    I don’t agree that it is both parties.

  • Ms_Phillips

    It’s not so much that the center has disappeared but that the Right has moved far, far right. What used to be center is now considered liberal.

  • Eduardo Tijerino

    Because it’s really one Republicrat party with asymmetrical wings.

  • Eduardo Tijerino

    The biggest difference APPEARS to be in regards to Obamacare. But if you look below the surface you can see that the conflict is a charade to maintain the illusion of choice.
    The individual mandate was proposed by Newt Gingrich and the Rs in the 90s, as an alternative to Hilarycare. For two decades the Rs trumpeted the individual mandate while the Ds gave lip service to the single payer model, until Obama started his “bargaining” by staking out the compromise position of accepting the Rs’ individual mandate, which creates huge profits for the insurance companies while forcing Americans who work in lower paying jobs – the kind that don’t offer health insurance – have to come up with money to give to insurance companies.
    The deed was done and all that’s left to do is watch the kabuki theater of occasional votes to “repeal Obamacare” while rich corporations get richer and the true believers (suckers) in either party quibble endlessly.
    Divide and conquer has worked so well for the Republicrat party that they see no reason to change.

  • Anonymous

    It’s the New Gilded Age. They won.

  • nnyl

    Maybe we should just let the South go next time….they complain more about taxes but take more federal tax dollars than they pay in.

  • Anonymous

    Extinction? Really? Could have fooled me.

    Last time I checked 31 out of 50 governors are republican – an all time high. In 26 states republicans control the governor and both houses of the legislature. Also an all time high.

    Republicans have a near all time high majority in the house of representatives, and have at least a fair shot to retake the congress in 2014.

    Is that what passes for extinction in the liberal circles?

  • Anonymous

    And you are unhappy about that, because you want a single party system where everyone agrees and votes with the party leader, correct?

    Your are troubled by the fact that Americans have two distinct choices, right? Because you know that some Americans are stupid and are choosing differently than you, right?

  • Anonymous

    This is what is destroying America.

  • glhall2

    If it’s both parties, why are the Koch brothers and others of their ilk spending billions to defeat Democrats? Your logic is faulty as hell.

  • Rob Landry

    I think what we’re actually witnessing is the disintegration of the Republican party. “Traditionally” conservative positions are becoming more and more obsolete. It seems to me this then causes remaining GOP members to become more intransigent, less likely to compromise and more likely to hold the extreme right positions. The “fever” of the extreme right is fueled by the poor, globalized, economy. This problem of the extreme right has been exacerbated by recent redistricting and by recent Supreme Court rulings that favor Republicans. But eventually the rubber band will have to snap back, and I think at that point we’ll see a “new center”. I’m guessing we’ll also see a new political party replace the GOP and will counter balance the “other side” on a whole new set of issues.

  • Stuart McDowall

    Let’s be clear. Democratic Party sold out its traditional Labor base for a Globalist New World Order of Technocracy, Banks and Multinational Corporations, from which precious campaign funding could be obtained. It gets votes from waving the Pro-Choice Voodoo Doll, and appearing to be less evil than . . .

    Republican Party Oligarchism…which gets its votes from playing to Bigots, waving its own Abortion Voodoo Doll…and vote obstruction of people of color. The GOP of the Rich doesn’t mind the Dem’s Globalist agenda…it makes them money…but working class Nationalists are freaking out…hence the Tea Party/Ron Paul contingent.

    BOTH parties are at fault for our current situation.

  • Anonymous

    And we are at fault for both parties.

  • rg9rts

    We get exactly the government we elect.

  • JonThomas

    Voters can’t even get more choice because the plutocrats of the 2 parties have garnered control of elections. A candidate that might be a better choice would not be allowed to run it the major parties. If one did run as a 3rd party, they would be marginalized and ignored by the party machinery – which includes the plutocrat owned media.

  • JonThomas

    I’m wondering if the Christian Right will ever wake up to the greedy, ‘who cares about my neighbor’s suffering,’ segment of the Republican Party with whom they are in bed. The Catholics will run to Confession, and the Protestants will do mea culpa on the 700 club.

  • JonThomas

    Where’s the fault in his logic?

    With only 2 parties you will have extremes of ideology even within each party. In comparison, the differences in opinion between the extremities of the two parties is HUGE.

    To pretend that one party is ‘better’ than the other is subjective mental masturbation. At best it’s the lesser of 2 evils. Even then the lies that are told warp the ability of the electorate to really know what they are choosing.

  • JonThomas

    Or maybe, just maybe, there are more possibilities than your presented options of either 2 parties or 1.

  • JonThomas

    Excellent comment. It helps to keep in mind the true meaning of the word “conservative”.

    We label ideology to help us make classifications. However, in today’s political spectrum, the far right wing (which may elicit concepts of ‘more conservative’) is actually ‘reactionary’… In other words they do not want to conserve, they want change.

    Even the center right wing of the Republican Party wants to turn back from society’s progress. They want individuals to proper, even if the rest of society falters.

    Look at the economic crash. They didn’t ask the wealthy who caused the crash, or those who prospered prior, to bail them out. They went to the least able to carry the load… The People.

    Instead of the individuals at fault paying for their mistakes, they made society as a whole suffer.

    The worst of it is the conditioning which has convinced people that they are indebted to these financial parasites.

  • Phil Hurst

    The fall of the Soviet Union is a major contributor, without a common enemy internecine conflict/wars are to be expected.

  • Anonymous

    So Republicans adapted just fine and are prospering, not near extinction?

    Which one is it?

  • Anonymous

    I believe there are many of us that really do ride the middle. The extremists, bullies and greedy, purchased the media and congress and this has led to successfully scamming Americans into believing that this great divide exists.

    The international conglomerates now have SCOTUS at their bidding, politicians are now nothing but professional candidates, that have been turned into pimps for the corporations and industries, who are sucking everybody dry.

  • Anonymous

    I wrote a paper in college about what happens when a “super power” dies. Same thing happens within a family system, when the glue that holds the family together dies and the vacuum that is created within the void.

  • Norman Prather

    Nice sentiment, I’ve even said it however the partisan redistricting process as so skewed the electoral process your statement is now far too simplistic.

  • Anonymous

    You’re joking, right? sold out to traditional labor? You mean the traditional labor that represents only 10% of American workers now? The unions which would need donations from 200,000 members to come up with what the Koches have given? Globalist New World Order is code for crazy right wing conspiracy theory and has little to do with reality.

  • Anonymous

    1.Citizens United and McCutcheon both allow unlimited money into politics,calling it “free speech” If anything is laughable it’s the highest court of the land declaring that some citizens can have billions of dollars more “free speech” than the average citizen, and that’s fair. 2. what conservatives are most worried about where Obamacare is concerned is that Americans will come to like it as much as seniors love their Medicare which was also “shoved down out throats”, resulting in seniors living much longer than they used to. 3) perhaps rebranding is a more appropriate term than disintegration. There’s way too much money backing Republicans for them to go away. What is definitely happening is that they are no longer merely conservatives; they are fast becoming fascists, though.

  • Anonymous

    Have you forgotten Newt Gingrich’s “Contract ON America”? Rush Limbaugh and Fox News just starting to redefine public discourse, and a philandering blow-hard declaring war on the president – for being a philanderer.

  • Steven

    Chris Coons (Del.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.V.), Joe Donnolly (Ind.) and John Walsh (Mont.).

    Seven Democratic Senators who must be middling as they joined the GOP Senators on March 5, 2014, and vetoed the first black President’s nominee for Asst. US Attorney General for Civil Rights.

    Maybe 2014 will show an increase in bi-partisanship? Will it always favor the Republicans?

  • Steven

    Come to SW Florida where the number of registered voters who did not register as either a Democrat or Republican is almost as great as the number of registered voters who did register as a Democrat or a Republican. On a micro-level this may be a challenge to the major parties and a flourishing of democracy.

  • JonThomas

    Good points, and I’m about to use a phrase I loathe… maybe Bernie Sanders is the ‘exception that proves the rule’?

    I wasn’t as clear as I should have been, and thank you for forcing my thought… I was mostly thinking about newer candidates rising through the ranks.

    It’s a shame that the entire nation is still irrationally afraid of anything with a labeled hint of ‘Socialist’ anything. If they only knew their own history!

    Lately I’ve come to regard politicians more for their honesty and integrity than for their ideology. I appreciate Sen. Sanders mostly for his integrity. True, I do tend to agree with most of his political leanings, but his honesty, ideals, and candor are what elicit trust and respect.

    Even though I agree with only about half of their ideology, I can even find a lot of respect for father and son Paul. Though they have some personal issues I dislike, they seem much more principled than many of their cohorts. They mostly will speak their mind even when it’s unpopular to their base.

    As far as Democratic hopefuls… Maybe Elizabeth Warren. Time will tell if she holds true. The pressure is just starting for her… being a bureaucrat is a bit different than needing public favor. I hold out hope.

    There are, of course, others on both sides of the aisle, and anywhere else, but on the National scene, I really do think that with McCutcheon the 2 party machine is now an all encompassing paradigm. I guess for living in this country I hope I am wrong.

    President Obama unfortunately has lost a ton of respect in my eyes. True, it’s tough to weather the storms of Presidential opposition, but he has shown less strength of character than I had thought, or wished he would. His words are admirable, but his actions are wanting.

    One thing President Obama has done for my own personal insight has been to expose me to Neo-liberal ideology. And yes, I hate it and everything it stands for!!! Lol.

    Anyway, good comment! Ty.

  • JonThomas

    Let us hope! Everyone has to follow through with what they see as the right path. Perhaps the more extreme things get, the more people will desire, and work towards something better!

  • Anonymous

    My theory is that the relentless bashing from the Gingrich GOP caused Democrats to become shell-shocked, a lingering malady. Political PTSD? Anyway, the Democrats in 2001 were just as patriotic as anybody, maybe mores then their GOP counterparts who wanted nothing more than an excuse to attack Iraq. Al Qaeda gave it to them. Even if I were being really cynical, I’d have to say what Democrat that hoped to be re-elected would have opposed the Republicans after 9/11? It is ironic, though, that on Bush’s watch 3500 people were killed by terrorists on our own soil and the Pentagon itself was hit. However, when 4 Americans who have accepted personal risk as part of their job are killed in Libya, the Republicans are ready to conduct a witch hunt. That alone should indicate the major difference between the two parties. Obama didn’t get the respectful “our leader” deference that both parties accorded W. Instead he was expected to know all and explain all ( and no explanation would have satisfied the implacable GOP) within hours of the attack. There is indeed a double standard in our politics; Democrats are expected to be purer than Republicans, even though the latter declare themselves to be the party of American values.

  • Anonymous

    Yep, Harry Reid and Barack (I will not negotiate) Obama had their snit, and shut down the government. Loved the way snit Obama blocked veterans from their memorials. And loved hearing Harry Reid say that those children with cancer weren’t important, as he withheld their cancer care by blocking the House-passed bill to fund NIH, with no strings attached.

  • JonThomas

    Well, I can see how it (as you say) appears I am contradicting myself.

    However, I assert that my position is completely rational.

    Keep in mind that I referred to subjective mental self-abuse.

    The difference in ideology between the two parties is HUGE.

    However, that doesn’t mean either, or both are correct. I contend that both are evil. One though, depending upon the people involved, may be, in an individual voting person’s opinion, less evil than the other.

    A person who lives their life from a completely different perspective may even see democracy as an evil (perhaps the lesser of all human government evils) and may not partake at all.

    That would be each person’s choice…. And even though some see the world, along with their individual (and family’s) lives being better off under a conservative leadership, other people prefer liberal leadership.

    To compound the problem, some people are morally conservative or liberal, and others are – for further example – more financially conservative or liberal.

    Human subjective perspectives are the primary colors. Mix and match and you have the rainbow.

    There are espoused ideas which are easily refutable, and others which are quite difficult… even – not right or wrong, just different.

    So, I get that I seem to contradict myself, and maybe you disagree with my view, but I believe I stand on solid ground… even if it’s ground from where the perspective is that which you cannot, nor ever wish to envision for yourself.

  • Jeff Klein

    Irrelevant to my posts, but thank you for sharing.

  • Anonymous

    Our legal system is based largely on precedent, and the precedent that secession doesn’t stand is well-established. If we void that, then every time the sociopaths gerrymander themselves into a majority in any state (or find a majority for the day) we’ll have to deal with constant secession attempts.

  • JonThomas

    I’m simply saying that is much more nuanced than… ‘Democrats good, Republicans bad.’

  • Anonymous

    Cynthia, I think that persuading the population that “they’re all the same” is part of the Republican play book. No, I’m not making this up or being paranoid. I read an essay written by a high-level operative in the national party ( forget his name), and he said that turning people off to voting would give them more power and opportunity. What are we reading in comments here, but cynicism that even though there’s a world of difference between Democratic and Republican values, goals, and positions, “they’re all the same.” I think the essay was entitled,” An End to All That,” so you can Google it (for those who will insist I’m a conspiracy theorist. See Eduardo below)

  • Anonymous

    You tell’em, Jon! I’ll throw in the deference of the Republicans when Jamie Dimon testified before the House. He “lost” over $2 billion of Morgan Stanley investors’ money, and they were asking HIM how to prevent such things from happening again. And Dimon got his hefty bonus at the end of the year, too.

  • Anonymous

    It was wrong to take single payer off the table. I agree whole-heartedly and live in a state that is trying to initiate it here. Democrats and Progressives are leading the effort with very few Republicans – if any – going along. The well-monied opposition is doing its best to turn the man on the street against it, and they may succeed as they have so many times in the past.

    That said, Obama’s flaw, if you will, is that he’s a negotiator, and to negotiate you have to concede some things. His biggest flaw in this case was to concede a big one before the bargaining even began. I suspect a lot of behind closed doors arm-twisting went on. It is interesting, following your train of though re: mandates being a Republican idea, that they have since the planning stage of Obamacare declared that they were being shut out of all discussion. In the end, the Democrats gave them a Republican health care plan, and they’ve done everything they can to discredit it, dismantle it, unfund it, and turn the public against it.

  • Carl Gottstein

    The left who has never been open to compromise caused this. Finally the right is fighting them and we are growing. Stay tuned. The left is doomed.

  • Carl Gottstein

    If you are saying the days of Republicans being loyal to democrats are OVER! I say, thank goodness! Democrats are a disaster!

  • Carl Gottstein

    Democrats are a disaster. Thank God the lefts reign of terror is coming to an end.

  • nnyl

    My comment was tongue-in-cheek. It seems we are still divided along those lines, with a few exceptions.

  • moderator

    If you cannot follow our comment policy, your comments will be deleted and you will be unable to participate further.

    Sean @ Moyers

  • Anonymous

    I’m not quite tongue in cheek. If I were I’d point out that secession is a settled question in law, but EXPULSION hasn’t been addressed at all. Maybe we should look at that.

  • Bill Glaser

    1775concord. I think you are trying to rewrite history according to FOX. Boehner, the house of representatives and Ted Cruz are responsible for the shut down of the government and as a result the shutting down of all government operations which include the people that work at the monuments and all other government employees, period. You can’t spin this any other way as we move into the 2014 election cycle. Boehner abdicated his responsibility and gave it to Ted Cruz is the way it happened.

  • Anonymous

    Neither of those yahoos has the brains or the clout to be taken seriously by anyone who actually matters, though. Perry could probably get someone to introduce the resolution in the Texas Lege, but I don’t think even those guys are stupid enough to actually support it. I could be wrong, though; there’s a reason Miss Molly tagged them the National Laboratory For Bad Government.

  • Anonymous

    Most of the “Christian” Right (which is neither, actually) ARE the greedy “who cares about my neighbor” segment of the GOP. They’re in bed with themselves… and incest is now a virtue.

  • Bill Glaser

    Rob I believe that you are correct. Ted Cruz and the Tea party hijacked the traditional Republican Party. I also believe the 2014 election will show all the moderated Republicans purged from the party giving Cruz a complete take over of the Party. He will use the power to be even more right winged and try a take over of House and Senate. His final plan is to stop all progress, make the Democratic Party impotent and take the presidency in 2020.

  • Bill Glaser

    Any succession by a state would mean instant death. these people promoting a statement have no idea what they are talking about. As George will described Donald Trump “They are simply bloviating ignoramuses.”

  • Rob Landry

    To be clear, I don’t mean to suggest that the Tea Party will be the party that replaces the GOP. I think it’s more likely that when a “new center” emerges the current right will disappear (b/c their issues will cease to be relevant) and when that happens the Democratic party will split into two factions (due to the structure of our “Winner Take All” system) to form a new political equilibrium around a new set of issues most people will consider more relevant. I don’t think artificial forces, like Supreme Court rulings and hyper-partisan congressional districts engineered through redistricting, will be able to withstand overwhelming consensus that is slowly but surely developing around the current “hot button” issues splitting the left and right.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, I think they’re ingenious enough to go way past Jim Crow. I know there are several semi-organized groups that want to repeal 13, 14, and 19, and some who think probably we could dispense with Magna Carta…

  • Stuart McDowall

    Not joking. The Clinton Global Initiative is a real thing. American jobs and unions were a real thing, before NAFTA. Global economic interdependence seems like a good, utopian idea, and heck, why not help all those poor third-world folks. But it played right into the hands of global, interdependent banking….which is how we got into this First World Depression. I’m still a supporter, but there’s gonna be a lot of complaining and finger pointing until they drive US wages down to the world average. Call it an Involuntary Simplicity Movement. Progressives like us need to own up to what’s happened…the Neo-Cons just fouled it up with the 2000 coup.

  • Invasive Evasion

    Inhofe is a bought and paid for shill for the fossil fuel industry. He knows he’s lying about global warming. The proof of that is in the level of convoluted dishonesty in his arguments. If he was making simple mistakes of reasoning, then you could attribute it to sincere ignorance or naivete. To create sophisticated fallacies of logic requires deliberate effort and manipulative skill. He knows exactly what he is doing.

  • Invasive Evasion

    For a tiny minority to control most of the world’s resources is not a “New World Order,” but an ancient order that dates back as far as human civilization. I agree that the democratic party has been bought off by corporate interests. The question is, what can we do about it?

  • Jona

    Clearly, we are not having a conversation here. Best of luck to you.

  • Jona

    They win, only if you let them win.

  • cleek

    Loved the way snit Obama blocked veterans from their memorials.

    he didn’t.