One Camel, Two Humps Will Dean Shift to the Center? Results Demand Re-Evaluation of U.S. Ties
Byline: Gary J. Andres, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Assuming he continues to excel in the primary campaign, most pundits agree Howard Dean will have to adroitly slide to the middle of the political spectrum after securing the nomination if he has any shot of occupying the White House. Mr. Dean's own comments about attracting "white southerners in pickups" and Al Gore's recent endorsement are early sparks in a campaign that recognizes the need to light a fire under centrist and establishment Democrats.
Yet there is another school of thought, based in part on a book written almost a half-century ago, but still helpful in understanding contemporary American politics, that predicts Mr. Dean may start left and stay left - and even do pretty well in the process. Here's why.
The "move to the center" theory is the product of a major supposition that under-girds much of modern political analysis in this country. Beneath the cozy blanket of conventional wisdom lies the assumption that American voters are arrayed on a left-right ideological spectrum, with the median voter - and the bulk of the electorate - somewhere in the middle. Visually - according to this view - the electorate resembles a Bell Curve, or what statisticians call a "normal distribution." Most of the voters are in the ideological center and the numbers dwindle as you move to the left or right.
With most Republicans right of center on this scale and most Democrats more to the left, this theory explains why presidential primary candidates try to win the support of their base constituencies by taking one set of positions and then moving to the middle, adopting more centrist views, after securing the nomination.
In 1957, political economist Anthony Downs published "An Economic Theory of Democracy," the book that laid the foundation for understanding American politics in this way. Mr. Downs' explanation of why candidates and parties converge to the center became ingrained in the psyche of political pundits and a staple in their menu of predictable offerings.
Yet while America's political ideology may have been shaped like a Bell Curve 20 or 30 years ago, most students of contemporary politics believe the electorate has fundamentally changed over the past decade. And these changes would no doubt lead Mr. Downs to a different prediction about what Mr. Dean - or any other presidential contender - will do if he secures the nomination in today's political environment.
Today's political landscape is shaped more like a two-humped camel than a bell-shaped curve. …