Eighty Percent of Us Aren’t Nuts

A 2018 study for the nonprofit group More in Common found that about 86% of Americans are not bat-shit crazy.

To quote the study, The Hidden Tribes of America:

A majority of Americans, whom we’ve called the “Exhausted Majority,” are fed up by America’s polarization. They know we have more in common than that which divides us: our belief in freedom, equality, and the pursuit of the American dream. They share a deep sense of gratitude that they are citizens of the United States. They want to move past our differences.

More in Common surveyed 8,000 Americans (a large sample size) and found that you could break us down into seven categories like this:

Only 14% of us are on the fringes. The study identified the far left as Progressive Activists (they make up 8%) and the far right as Devoted Conservatives (they make up just 6%). That leaves 86% of us somewhere in the middle, ranging from traditional liberals to traditional conservatives.

So if so few of us are out on the wings and so many of us are tired of polarization, why are we so split?

Much of it comes down to passion. Take gun control, for example. Polls have consistently shown that about 85% of Americans support sensible gun laws, like universal background checks. That even includes a strong majority of NRA members. And, yet, nothing passes. That’s because the slim minority of gun extremists are absolutely passionate about that one issue, while the vast majority of us, who are gun control supporters, have lots of other issues we care about. So, politicians know that if they vote for even mild gun laws the majority of their constituents may or may not support them at the next election, while they will have earned the furious opposition of a dedicated minority.

It’s the same on the left. You might wonder why Democrats don’t try to put more distance between themselves and all manner of unpoplar ideas, like defunding the police, Critical Race Theory and ever more creative views of gender and sexuality. It’s because these are core issues for the most passionate part of the Democratic coalition, and the part that votes religiously, gives money, volunteers in campaigns and spreads the word via social media.

But here’s the problem for those of us on the center-left part of the spectrum: the passionate extremists on the left hurt moderate liberals more than the passionate nut jobs on the right hurt conservatives. The bulk of voters are more repulsed by hard-left ideas and rhetoric than they are supportive of liberal policies or repulsed by the ideas and rhetoric of the hard-right.

That shows up in state legislative races. Republicans control both houses of 30 legislatures while Democrats control only 18, and two are split. (Nebraska has a single-house legislature and is counted here among the Republican 30.)

My own view is that that’s largely a problem of geography. Because liberals congregate in cities it’s hard for them to win a majority of state legislative seats. And as a result of that, more states are in a position to gerrymander both their own bodies and Congressional seats, which just deepens the problem. With fewer competitive legislative and Congressional seats, what politicians fear is not a moderate opponent from the other party, but a more extreme opponent from their own. So, this pushes the right to the right and the left further left, while most of us remain in the middle.

Seems to me there are at least two obvious solutions. The first is to end extreme partisan gerrymandering. That is part of the Democrats’ voting rights bill — it requires nonpartisan redistricting commissions at the state level. But that bill has no chance because it won’t pass as long as the filibuster is in place, and the Dems don’t have the votes to put a dagger through this archaic practice.

Which would argue for the party to take a strategic approach focussed at retaining and expanding their majorities in the mid-term elections, with a view toward being able then to overcome the objections of their most conservative members, end the filibuster, and pass more progressive legislation. They have not and will not do this. Did I mention they were Democrats?

But even if we could end gerrymandering that still wouldn’t be enough. As Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ own fair maps commission showed, that concentration of liberals in cities is persistent. Even if you draw the fairest maps possible in Wisconsin, the likely GOP Assembly majority goes from 60-39 now to maybe 55-44 then.

So, you’re left with the same inescapable conclusion. For the Democrats to be successful they need to become more moderate because they need to appeal to more of that sane 86% than they do right now. The trouble is that it’s that eight percent Progressive Activist group that insists on pushing issues and rhetoric that are destroying any chance of that.

But we can’t give up. With the Republicans now the quasi-fascist party of America, our main hope is in a more center-left Democratic Party that can inspire and motivate the vast, dispirited middle.

Welcome to the 257th consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Note: Here’s how More in Common describes each of the seven groups:

Progressive Activists (8 percent of the population) are deeply concerned with issues concerning equity, fairness, and America’s direction today. They tend to be more secular, cosmopolitan, and highly engaged with social media.

Traditional Liberals (11 percent of the population) tend to be cautious, rational, and idealistic. They value tolerance and compromise. They place great faith in institutions.

Passive Liberals (15 percent of the population) tend to feel isolated from their communities. They are insecure in their beliefs and try to avoid political conversations. They have a fatalistic view of politics and feel that the circumstances of their lives are beyond their control.

The Politically Disengaged (26 percent of the population) are untrusting, suspicious about external threats, conspiratorially minded, and pessimistic about progress. They tend to be patriotic yet detached from politics.

Moderates (15 percent of the population) are engaged in their communities, well informed, and civic-minded. Their faith is often an important part of their lives. They shy away from extremism of any sort.

Traditional Conservatives (19 percent of the population) tend to be religious, patriotic, and highly moralistic. They believe deeply in personal responsibility and self-reliance.

Devoted Conservatives (6 percent of the population) are deeply engaged with politics and hold strident, uncompromising views. They feel that America is embattled, and they perceive themselves as the last defenders of traditional values that are under threat.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

5 thoughts on “Eighty Percent of Us Aren’t Nuts

  1. 86% of us eschew radical policy ideas. I wonder what percentage of us are open to ideas that people of the other political party are out-and-out evil. I don’t mean evil for having ideas that won’t work but that they actually aim to make innocent people suffer. I see the radicals on this non-policy spectrum as agreeing on many policies. Maybe they agree tech companies should pay higher taxes to support working families, but they also think Democrats are taking over institutions of the world to control their lives and brainwash and murder their children or that Republicans would like a fascist state with concentration camps and all the Nazi horrors.

    We can deal with radical policy ideas with reason. I think the problem is thinking people who voted for a different candidate are evil.


  2. Your graphic lumps “Traditional Conservatives” into the radical “wings” but not “Traditional Liberals”. I’m sure (or, I think) that’s an innocent typo, since the text makes a different distinction.


  3. This was touched upon in a post some weeks back, but another option is widening the field of political parties we can choose from. I’m not educated enough to know the practical process for achieving that goal (does ranked choice voting have a part in this?) but I sure do like the idea of more political parties that can better align with our varied viewpoints. They would have to cooperate with each other and form coalitions and actually compromise because it would be rare for one to have an outright majority. Anyone here have experience living in a democracy with more than 2 viable parties? Is it better?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am vaguely aware that other countries have many political parties and their system is structured such that they have to form coalitions to get things done in government. That does seem preferable our system with two parties and one party taking control of the Senate and House even though the makeup is close to 50/50.


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