image: Timothy Geithner, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury 2009 to 2013, has lamented the loss of the "pragmatic center" in our politics
No matter who wins, the presidential election of 2016 will go down as having the least popular winner with the highest disapproval ratings of almost anyone seeking the office. It’s virtually impossible to tell if voters are making a choice based on a preference for that candidate, or if they’re simply voting against the other person. The American electorate, which was sharply divided well before 2016, now finds itself shattering in bizarre and unpredictable ways.
Each candidate enjoyed a post-convention bounce, but the numbers have stabilized since then, showing a sharply divided electorate with few persuadable voters in the middle. Some see a danger in the loss of what former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner calls the “pragmatic center” that represents a threat to nation going forward.
Sensible Economic Choices Not Being Made
Partisan influence in the primaries has allowed the fringe in both major parties to gain a nearly unbreakable grip on each candidate. The biggest casualty is reasonableness, which has already resulted in virtual budget gridlock in Washington. In the meantime our roads, bridges and infrastructure investments continue to dwindle, leaving the nation with a growth deficit and, even more alarming, increasingly dilapidated and dangerous thoroughfares.
The shattering of traditional left and right politics has also created some surreal political moments, with numerous Republicans publicly supporting Hillary Clinton and some liberal groups supporting Republican candidates for the Senate. These divisions have been building for some time, but only recently have demographic trends finally upended traditional party politics.
Like it or Not, America Is Changing
By the numbers, America is getting older, less white, less likely to be associated with a single religion and better educated. In 1992 the share of white voters was eighty-two percent. Today that figure is below seventy percent. During that same time the number of Hispanic voters has nearly doubled. These changing population demographics are also fueling an increase in the number of people who self-identify as “mixed race” in the U.S. Yet these demographic changes in the population have not been matched by the demographic composition of the two major political parties. Democrats have become far more diverse while Republicans have remained stubbornly white. The parties have not aged equally either, with Democrats getting younger on average and Republicans getting significantly older.
Our divisions aren’t so much between left and right today as they are between older and younger, whites and everyone else. Instead of a diverse voting base, the stratification has shifted fights for power from the general election to the primaries, where a smaller number of voters carry more power. Through a stranglehold on the primaries, the extremists on both sides of the political debate have been able to crowd out more moderate voices.
Overall, this split is not a positive trend for our nation. Business and the economy thrive on predictability and stability. The crazier our politics become, and the sharper the divisions, the more volatility that will bleed over into our economic lives. Timothy Geithner was exactly right when he suggested that the death of reasonableness in our politics is a threat to the economic well-being of the nation.