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Chris Tausanovitch, UCLA
(Co-authored with Anthony Fowler, Seth Hill, Jeff Lewis, Lynn Vavreck, and Christopher Warshaw)
Abstract: Moderates are often overlooked in contemporary research on American voters, most of whom are partisans. When moderates are examined, the evidence leads some to suggest that many Americans hold middle-of-the-road positions, while others argue that those who appear moderate are only classified as such due to their lack of political sophistication or conflicted and extreme views on issues. We develop a method to distinguish between these types. We identify three ways voters can be classified as moderates: by having genuinely moderate views on a single underlying ideological dimension, by being inattentive to politics or our survey, or by holding views that are not well summarized by a single liberal-conservative dimension. We find that although the single-dimension spatial model describes most voters' policy-views well, roughly a quarter of survey respondents over the last decade express views that are meaningful but not constrained in this manner. In this paper we provide a way to identify this politically interesting group using patterns of policy responses found in most traditional political surveys. The focus on moderates is important as we further demonstrate that genuinely moderate voters, as well as those who don't map onto the single dimension, participate less in politics than liberal and conservative voters. They are, however, especially consequential for electoral selection and accountability when they participate because they are most likely to change their votes in response to candidates' quality and ideology. As an increasing number of elections are won by narrow margins, these results suggest a need for renewed attention to the middle of the American political spectrum and a more precise decomposition of it.