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Political Memo: The “Centrist Premium”: The High Cost of Moderation

By / 8.18.2011

For most of the last 30 years, self-described ideological moderates have comprised a plurality of the American electorate. While the share of moderates has dropped slightly in recent years, 38 percent of voters in 2010 still described themselves as such.

In Congress, on the other hand, moderates are decidedly—and increasingly—a minority. Among Democrats, the moderate New Democrat and Blue Dog Coalitions suffered heavy losses among their respective memberships in 2010 and are now outnumbered by their liberal counterparts in the Progressive Caucus. Among Republicans, moderate members are an even rarer species. In fact, there are only 33 members of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership who are not also part of the 177-member conservative Republican Study Committee.

Analysts have offered up structural explanations—such as gerrymandering and the current political primary system—for why there aren’t more moderates in elected office to reflect America’s true ideological complexion. This paper looks at another structural disadvantage that moderate candidates and incumbents face: campaign finance.

For better or for worse, financing plays a major role in a candidate’s viability and success. Financing buys the ads and ability to raise a candidate’s profile, counter the opposition and turn out the vote. A hefty campaign war chest can be enough in itself to discourage potential rivals. According to the Federal Election Commission, House Congressional races cost a grand total of nearly $1.1 billion in 2010—or $2.5 million per seat. Moreover, elections are becoming increasingly expensive. The spending in 2010 was nearly double the $563 million spent just a decade ago in 2000.

Read the entire memo.