The New American Center, a survey by Esquire and NBC News, has unearthed an explosive new finding: We’re probably not going to have a civil war, after all.
As if we needed any more proof about the uselessness of polls, Obama pollster Benenson Strategy Group and Romney pollster Neil Newhouse of Public Opinion Strategies dug deep and found out that a majority of us have congealed into centrists — just millions of rational and logical realists looking for solutions and otherwise minding our own business. “All you hear in Washington is that there’s nothing in the middle of the aisle,” says Franklin tells NBC News. “But it turns out that’s not true. We have a massive American center, and it’s probably been there for years, just waiting to be found.”
Or, as NBC News puts it:
Culturally, the center could be the butt of any joke in America, with lives that encompass Duck Dynasty and NPR, baby arugula and all-you-can eat Fridays. The center includes suburban mothers, rural working class men, rich city-dwelling business-people and relatively disaffected young people.
Welcome to America, people! And though this poll tells us absolutely nothing new about our own views, it tells us plenty about conventional thinking within Washington and the media.
It’s bothersome enough that we operate under the implicit notion that disagreement is unhealthy and destructive for the nation. But there are other problems with the “13 Things That Define the New American Center.” Let’s start with that fact that the “New” American Center has always been the American center. Yes, there has been some generational movement on social issues like gay marriage and marijuana legalization, but Washington’s policies have been a hodgepodge of half measures aimed at appeasing centrist values for a long time. If not, we’d have privatized Social Security and a single-payer health insurance system by now.
And though the “our nation isn’t as divided as we think” story is apparently a counter-intuitive novelty for those who consistently portray half the country as off-their-rocker musket-toting troglodytes, the reality is that most people only care about politics occasionally, and even then in the abstract. That’s great news. No doubt, you go through your entire day interacting with a diverse assortment of Americans — of many genders, races and ethnicities — without ever demanding to know what they think about capital gains tax rates or the debt ceiling.
Now, if we continue to make a national political issue out of everything imaginable — health care to education to how little we exercise — that may change. But we’re not there just yet.
In fact, if we’re to believe the results of Esquire/NBC News poll, we would not only have to concede that the nation isn’t as right-wing as the Tea Party, but that it is also far less liberal than the self-styled standard bearers of the rational center, the modern-day Democratic Party. Americans support offshore drilling (81 percent), ending affirmative action in hiring and education (57 percent), and limiting abortion once the third trimester begins. Only one in four Americans supports reforms that offer a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. From this we should deduce that that the major political party representing that right has been profoundly incompetent.
The most striking problem with the poll, though, is the poll. Our ideological views aren’t always sophisticated, but they aren’t always a template. I’ve encountered a so-called Tea Party activist who thinks a bailout of student loans is super idea and a progressive journalist who could only be described as a gun nut.
The poll is useless because the questions are useless. Take these two examples:
There are perhaps five people in the entire country who don’t believe we need ANY programs to help people who fall through the cracks. That may be how an average MSNBC host formulates the debate, but in the real world it’s an argument over dependency and self-sufficiency. And who doesn’t believe everyone should have equal opportunity to succeed? The debate is over how involved government should be in providing it.
So I went to Esquire to take the survey and learn more about my own “ideological niche.” And this is what happened:
Consider that in the poll I answered “strongly agree” with the two questions above, supported the legalization of prostitution and marijuana, and supported the idea of allowing immigrants to vote without any identification — and that’s just for starters. I find it difficult to believe that I fall on the “talk radio heads” end of the ideological spectrum. Naturally, like you, I’m a moderate voice of reason.