Magazine Feature / People

New book explains how moderates get weeded out of politics

Political Science Assistant Professor Seth Masket’s new book, No Middle Ground: How Informal Party Organizations Control Nominations and Polarize Legislatures, (University of Michigan Press, 2009) explains how moderates have been left out of politics.

“Activists, donors and a few key office-holders work together to pick candidates they like and give those candidates real advantages,” says Masket. “The candidates they don’t like, most of whom are moderates, get frozen out.”

Masket explores this theory in-depth with the California Legislature. In the book, interviews with local political players shed light on the coordination that occurs before primaries.

Local party figures — most of whom are ideologically extreme — prefer that other extremists get elected to office. They provide these candidates with the endorsements, funds and expertise that can help them prevail in a primary. And they make sure other candidates don’t get those resources.

This isn’t unique to California, Masket notes. The same thing is happening in many states, including Colorado, Wisconsin and New Jersey.

“Arlen Specter’s recent defection to the Democratic party is a perfect reflection of the pressure that these outside actors can put on moderate incumbents,” says Masket. “Republican activists wanted a more reliable nominee, and they’ll get one.”

This sort of party arrangement explains why more Republican members of Congress have not voted for President Obama’s agenda, despite his popularity.

“Their constituents may like Obama, but the conservative activists and donors who are the real party bosses today do not, and they can make life very hard for Republican incumbents who vote with the president,” Masket says.

The book is available for online purchase.

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