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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Passion in the middle

by John Brummett | March 4, 2021 at 6:56 a.m.

The latest Gallup public opinion polls show a surge in independence in America that indicates political parties make noise and nonmembers make the difference.

Persons identifying as Democrats or Republicans have been declining for years in these surveys. But this latest spike takes us to a new and rapidly risen level.

Just before the November election, the poll showed that 31 percent of respondents identified as Democrats, 30 percent as Republicans and 38 percent as independents. Data from surveying in late January and early February showed 25 percent each identifying as Democrats or Republicans and a full half of respondents, precisely 50 percent, calling themselves independents.

Democrats were down six points and Republicans five while independents were up a dozen.

What happened between November and February? Well, let's see.

One party fomented and then excused insurrection. Losing only five points on that is alarming in itself.

The other party took office and talked of unity, then proceeded with plans for a futile impeachment removal trial for the insurrectionist already removed, accomplishing, when you got down to it, exactly nothing.

Now there has been a follow-up Gallup survey, conducted through mid-February, suggesting the earlier one was aberrant, but not terribly so or trend-breaking. It showed Democrats at 32, Republicans at 26 and independents at 41.

By either survey, or from both, the parties ought to accept that they are being increasingly rejected. The message is less that there is room for a third party--though most respondents say in the abstract that they'd like one--than that American attitudes reject the parties they have.

It is that there is an opening for one or the other--most likely the Democrats, if they are smart enough, which they don't appear to be--to capture most of the independents.

The future lies in what I call party-plus, and more in the plus than the party.

More people will eschew party membership. They will lean one way or the other depending on the issue or the ability of what remains of the parties to demonstrate more connection to them. Their fluctuations could vary nine points in two weeks, as we see.

The Gallup numbers show that, of the 50 percent declaring as independents in early February, 51 percent said they leaned to the Democrats and 40 percent say they leaned to the Republicans. That's advantage-Democrats, if its then-25 percent could concede at times to the 51 percent of the 50 percent.

If I say so myself, and I happily do, my recent theme about pragmatic center-out governing seems by these new numbers well-conceived and well-timed.

I refer to those columns saying that the voting results in November rejected both Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi--he more on behavior and she more on philosophy. Independents are looking for a better person than Trump and a less liberal person than Pelosi. And that covers most of the population.

These columns called on President Biden to mean what he said about unity and to seek incremental bipartisan progress in concert with Republicans like Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Ben Sasse and Rob Portman.

He should let his own 25 percent base squeal and ignore his opposing 25 percent--applying the early-February data--because it seems determined to go insane or into a Trump cult, which is the same thing.

Incremental bipartisan progress would mean a smaller covid-relief package. It would call for pulling the $15 minimum wage out of covid relief and working instead with center-leaning Republicans on reason and mathematics. By that I mean a stand-alone proposal for an increased minimum wage varying by state according to the local cost of living and indexed everywhere to inflation.

Just because Bernie Sanders is wedded to $15 an hour doesn't make a darn.

The problem with this construction is that sometimes--such as in midterm elections driven by turnout--the respective party memberships achieve outsized power relative to their numbers because of their ongoing passion while independents tend to be detached in their moderation.

Passion in moderation is an oxymoronic phase. Getting fired up about getting in the middle is not altogether natural.

We are in a position in Arkansas to serve as a laboratory testing this matter, specifically to assess whether circumstances can arise by which there can be, in fact, passion in middle moderation.

We have state Sen. Jim Hendren's conversion from Republican to independent and his or Davy Carter's potential third-option candidacy for governor getting between devotees of Trump's misbehavior and Pelosi's liberalism.

What we should keep an eye on is Hendren's Common Ground organization. He tells me a board is being assembled and mission details being ironed out and that he's not ready to release information, but assures, "it's going to be good."

We'll see what the independents have to say about that. Because they're the deciders.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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