Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why Moderates Win in North Carolina: Overview

This is part of PPP's new report on why moderates win in North Carolina. You can read the whole thing here.
In 2002 Elizabeth Dole ran for the US Senate and mostly projected herself as a moderate. She got a great deal of crossover support from conservative Democrats and Democratic women, and fared strongly with independents. She won convincingly.

During her time in the Senate she ended up voting largely in lockstep with the President, accumulated little to speak of in terms of bipartisan accomplishments, and generally shed her moderate image in favor of a more conservative one. She paid the price on Election Day.

Dole’s shift from moderate to conservative was not a smart one in the scheme of North Carolina politics. This is a state of moderates.

Self Identified Ideology of North Carolina Voters:

Moderate Democrats


Conservative Republicans


Liberal Democrats


Moderate Republicans


Conservative Democrats


Moderate independents


Liberal Republicans


Conservative independents


Liberal independents


44% of North Carolina voters identify as moderates, compared to 33% who are conservatives, and 24% who think of themselves as liberals. That adds up to a state that’s about as centrist as it can be, and that helps to explain both why there were so many competitive statewide races this year and also why moderate candidates tend to defeat those who tilt too far one way or the other in major political contests. Candidates like Kay Hagan, Bev Perdue, and Walter Dalton who were successful in high attention races this year are all cut from the same cloth of moderate Democrats who make up a plurality of voters in the state.

All things being equal in North Carolina politics:

-A moderate Democrat should beat a moderate Republican
-A moderate Democrat should beat a conservative Republican
-A moderate Republican should beat a liberal Democrat,
-A conservative Republican should beat a liberal Democrat
-A moderate Republican should beat a conservative Democrat
-A conservative Democrat should beat a conservative Republican

Of course all things are rarely equal. For instance by this token moderate Democrat Jim Hunt should have beaten conservative Republican Jesse Helms in 1984 and moderate Democrat Terry Sanford should have won reelection against conservative Republican Lauch Faircloth in 1992. The drag of Walter Mondale at the top of the ticket in 1984 and uncertainty over Sanford’s health in 1992 were extenuating circumstances that resulted in exceptions to the rule in each of those cases, and there have been plenty of others. But generally speaking in 21st century North Carolina the above rules should hold true, and it speaks to the fact that both Democrats and Republicans concerned about general election viability should support the nomination of moderate candidates for major offices.

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