New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow outlines how the recent U.S. midterm election revealed a nation retreating from moderation in its politics. This has journalistic implications.
According to exit polls, Tuesday’s vote continued a trend, reaching a record low percentage of self-described liberals who voted for Republican candidates for the House of Representatives, and a record low percentage of conservatives who voted for Democratic candidates. Ideology is slowly becoming rigidly prescriptive and political transcendence is becoming less and less possible or admirable.
Even the moderates, who tend to vote slightly more Democratic, set a record: the lowest percentage of moderates voting in House races. In fact, this is the first time in the history of exit polling that moderates were not the largest ideological voting block. They were trumped by conservatives.
Instead of moving toward the middle, we are drifting toward the extremes.
We need only flip on cable “news” in the evenings to see how this plays out. We are feted to a cacophony of recriminations and a never-ending string of gotcha moments, until the “other side” has been stripped of all nobility. The Anchors of Acrimony have made a fortune salting the middle ground. So now the political pendulum has swung back hard to the right, mostly because of a disproportionately large number of older, wealthier, conservative voters — a quirk of midterms in general but particularly strong this cycle. It was yet another ideological backlash.
In his appearance at a Canadian Journalism Foundation event on Oct. 21, Globe and Mail editor-in-chief John Stackhouse said: “This growth in extremes is a real threat to mainstream, centrist publications. I imagine what it would be like to be editor of the Houston Chronicle and wake up every morning … knowing that 40 per cent of that (area) population isn’t even going to consider reading you because they think you’re part of some conspiracy.”
Stackhouse thinks the U.S. is unique in terms of its political divide, and doesn’t see the same degree of polarization emerging here.
However, note this Oct. 27 column from the Globe and Mail’s Jeffery Simpson:
A poll came out last week that showed just how rock-solid is the Conservative Party’s hold on 30 per cent of the electorate.
Asked who was responsible for Canada’s humiliating third-place finish in the three-country competition for the United Nations Security Council, 30 per cent responded: Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.
The Conservative spin machine blamed Mr. Ignatieff for that defeat. The charge was blatantly untrue, as every UN observer, including a string of former ambassadors, attested. That 30 per cent of the electorate swallowed the distortion illustrates that group will believe just about anything from the party, and thus constitutes one irreducible bloc of voters in Canadian politics.
We shouldn’t assume that we’ll always be a centrist country that wants a centrist media. There are some, such as Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin, who has argued that the news media in this country already tilt a bit to the right.
If you have time, revisit this Aug. 27 post: A house united in ignorance cannot stand.