Moderate voters, writes Ezra Klein on Vox.com, “are largely a statistical myth. When you dig into their policy positions, the people who show up as moderates in polls are actually pretty damn extreme — and efforts to empower them may, accidentally, lead to the rise of more extreme candidates.
“What happens, explains David Broockman, a political scientist at the University of California at Berkeley, is that surveys mistake people with diverse political opinions for people with moderate political opinions. The way it works is that a pollster will ask people for their position on a wide range of issues: marijuana legalization, the war in Iraq, universal health care, gay marriage, taxes, climate change, and so on. The answers will then be coded as to whether they’re left or right.
“People who have a mix of answers on the left and the right average out to the middle — and so they’re labeled as moderate. But when you drill down into those individual answers you find a lot of opinions that are well out of the political mainstream. “A lot of people say we should have a universal health-care system run by the state like the British,” Broockman said in July 2014. “A lot of people say we should deport all undocumented immigrants immediately with no due process. You’ll often see really draconian measures towards gays and lesbians get 16 to 20 percent support. These people look like moderates but they’re actually quite extreme.”
“There’s even reason to believe “average voters” — which is to say, less politically engaged voters — hold more extreme opinions: engaged Democrats and Republicans tend to adopt the positions held by their parties, and parties tend to adopt positions that are popular, achievable and workable. So voters who follow their parties end up pushing ideas in the political mainstream. Voters who aren’t as interested in politics and who don’t attach themselves to a party push the ideas they actually like, irrespective of whether they’re popular or could attract 60 votes in the Senate or would be laughed at by policy experts.”