Esquire.com this morning posted a very long infographic, which also appears in its November issue, tidily titled “13 Things That Define the New American Center.” It’s the result of a poll commissioned by Esquire and NBC News, and compiled by Obama pollster Benenson Strategy Group and Romney pollster Neil Newhouse of Public Opinion Strategies—so it must be “bipartisan”! The data, the editors claim, “show us there is a large group of American voters—even a majority—who make up a New American Center that is passionate, persuadable, and very real. They are merely waiting for Washington to find them.”
I appreciate the contrarianism here, given the years-old mantra from pundits and polls alike that our country is a more polarized than it’s been since Reconstruction (or even worse, if you believe Jimmy Carter). It doesn’t take a poll guru, though, to know that this isn’t how electoral politics in America work. Not to oversimplify our wonderful, deeply flawed system, but our elected representatives in Washington essentially represent specific plots of land—districts, states, and in the case of Obama and Biden, the entire country. You cannot run as a standard-bearer of this “New American Center”—whatever that is—and win, say, Texas’s 13th Congressional District or the state of Wyoming.
Furthermore, was the Old American Center apathetic, intractable, and very fake? And how does Washington “find” this new center, exactly? I’m quite sure that’s exactly what was attempted after the Newtown massacre. Nine out of ten Americans support background checks, and yet, the fact is, there is no “new” center. The center, as always, is a moving target, and for awhile now it’s been moving left. Which is why Obama won in 2008, and won last year, and why Democrats will probably occupy the White House for years to come. The very first item on Esquire’s list confirms as much: 56 percent of these New American Centrists it polled said they voted for Obama. You’ll recall that Obama only got 51 percent of the popular vote.
The poll is problematic in other ways. Consider the wording of this question about a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Well, when you word it that way! (I can forgive the phrase “illegal immigrants,” but doesn’t that then obviate the second half of the question?)
I could do this all day, but for the sake of paying attention to the government shutdown and debt-ceiling negotiations—which the center, and then some, really wants Congress to raise—here’s a list of 20 things that the New American Center wants, by this poll's reckoning (based on highest-percentage responses):
1. End affirmative action in hiring decisions and college applications.
2. No path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
3. End Constitutional originalism.
4. End two-party rule.
5. Require background checks for all gun purchases.
6. End race and gender wage discrimination.
7. Raise the minimum wage to $10/hour.
8. Keep food stamps, Medicaid, and welfare.
9. Allow abortions, but not after three months.
10. Legalize marijuana.
11. Legalize gay marriage.
12. Stop trying to be the world’s policeman.
13. Reduce foreign aid.
14. Spend less, period.
15. Tax carbon-polluters.
16. Expand oil and gas drilling.
17. Keep the death penalty.
19. Drink beer.
20. Watch football.
Ryan Kearney is a story editor at The New Republic.