Neither label could counter the polarization, and Trump, of this election

For decades now, various politicians have tried to tap into and galvanize what they consider to be moderate voters as a viable political movement. For decades, those efforts have been fruitless. The latest evidence comes days after No Labels — a bipartisan, centrist organization — abandoned its quest to land the 2024 presidential ticket.

No Labels' quest was driven in part by the idea that many Americans are unhappy with the choice between President Biden and former President Donald Trump, two older and less popular presidential candidates. In that context, some thought there was an opening for an independent alternative, and some opinion polls gave credence to the idea.

However, the effort failed from the outset, with perceptions that an unlabeled ticket would become a spoiler, with no chance of winning the election and every chance of helping Trump re-elect. The organization's leaders vowed that this was not their goal. Instead, they said they did not want to help the former president. Still, sentiments ran high and resistance mounted.

The committee explored the nominations with politicians from both parties, including Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.), one of the nation's leading bipartisan voices who often clashed with members of his own party; Larry Hogan, a former two-term governor of Maryland who has said he will not vote for Trump and is now running for the Senate; and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a onetime Trump supporter who unsuccessfully tried to unseat Trump in the Republican primaries.

All three Deciding to let the opportunity to mount a third-party challenge slip away, it may have concluded that there is no viable path to victory. They're not the first to come to that conclusion in recent years. Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a Democrat, Republican and independent in his political career, has done extensive research on the prospects for a third-party run. He decided that he could not win like that. In 2020, he ran in the Democratic primary, losing that effort to Biden.

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The concept of median voters has been around for a long time. Some politicians have called it a “sensible center” or a “radical middle,” like a kind of sleeping giant within the electorate waiting to be awakened by the right idea or a charismatic leader.

Ross Perot looked fit when he ran in 1992. His humorous persona, non-politician and outsider, focused on budget deficits and free trade agreements (remember his description of trade with his “giant suction cup. Mexico?) was compelling to many voters. At one point he was leading the polls. In the end, he captured 19 percent of the national vote and more than 25 percent in eight states. But he did not conquer any state.

Later, he tried to turn the campaign into a more sustained movement. He ran again in 1996, but by then, his following had fractured and its ideological cohesion had never been stronger. He got just 8 percent of the vote Nationally, no state has won more than 15 percent.

Since then, American politics has become more and more polarized and voting patterns have become more and more tribal. Regardless of what people call themselves ideologically, party loyalty generally dictates voting behavior.

An example of that is the almost rigid pattern of states supporting presidential candidates and Senate candidates of the same party after years of split-ticket voting in those races. Red states have gone red and blue states have gone blue, leading to recent elections in which six or seven states are running for president.

American voters aren't polarized—they're more ideologically evolved. In 1994, according to Gallup polls, 25 percent of Democrats identified themselves as liberals, about the same percentage who called themselves conservatives. By 2021, the percentage of liberals identified as liberal had doubled to 50 percent of Democrats, while the percentage of conservatives had been cut in half to 12 percent.

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If in the opposite direction, the same would be true in the Republican Party. In 1994, 58 percent of Republicans described themselves as conservative. By 2021, it has risen to 74 percent. Moderates fell from 33 percent to 22 percent, while liberals remained in single digits throughout.

1994 is remembered as the election in which Republicans captured the House for the first time in four decades, and a time that accelerated toward a more divided political environment. Presidents since Bill Clinton More and more polarizing On how people in their own party and other parties see it.

Little has changed in how they view themselves ideologically over the same period since 1994. As of 2021, 48 percent say they are moderates, 30 percent say they are conservative, and 20 percent say they are liberal.

Among independents, those numbers helped fuel the idea of ​​a potential constituency of moderate voters looking for something different. And surveys suggest a significant number of Americans are hungry for cross-party cooperation (Republicans are more likely to oppose it than Democrats).

But many self-proclaimed independents actually lean toward one party or the other and vote loyally as a result — 81 percent as of 2019. Pew Research study As the study stated, “Independents are often portrayed as agents of political freedom capable of bridging the country's sharp partisan divides. However, the reality is that most independents are not politically 'independent'.

The same study underscores the lack of unity among true independents. According to Pew, less than 10 percent of Americans are labeled fully independent, and this group has “no partisan tilt.” Beyond that, they were seen as less politically engaged – less likely to be registered to vote and less likely to vote if registered.

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It is not a broad or stable foundation on which to build a centrist movement. For all the hunger for a better politics, public sentiment is just the opposite. A 2022 Pew study Negative views of those in the opposing party are on the rise. More than 7 in 10 Republicans and 6 in 10 Democrats say people in the other party are unethical and dishonest. These findings were significantly higher than those found in a study six years earlier.

A choice between Biden and Trump could prompt some voters to vote for one of the independent candidates running for president. They can do what some opponents of the no-labels initiative fear, By altering election results. The Biden and Trump Campaigns Robert F. They are concerned about Kennedy Jr.'s candidacy and are doing their best to protect their candidate from the impact of his potential appeal.

Today, no one knows how much support independent candidates, including Green Party candidate Jill Stein and scholar Cornel West, will garner for Biden and Trump. Meanwhile, leaders of No Labels have expressed their commitment to building a centrist movement.

But that may not be the time, as the 2022 Pew survey's attitudes help explain the reality of the current political climate: A divided, unhappy and fearful electorate heads into a November election in which the stakes couldn't be higher.

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