Frustrated, hard-to-figure centrist voters could be key to ‘14 election

McClatchy Washington BureauJune 26, 2014 

Unpredictable, frustrated centrist voters—not the political parties’ attention-grabbing ideological wings—make up most of the electorate and have potential to have the most impact on 2014 races, according to a new Pew Research Center study released Thursday.

American politics might seem to be dominated and even defined by the ideological wings, but "they make up a minority of the public," Pew found.

"The center is large and diverse, unified by frustration with politics and little else," said the study, conducted between January and March.

So far, ideological battles have gotten the spotlight. Part of the reason is that the 2014 primary season’s most-noticed contests have been Republican battles where a diehard conservative has challenged a less doctrinaire incumbent.

The primary season, though, is winding down. General election contests now become the focal point, and in most cases, winning close races usually depends on wooing that center.

It won’t be easy.

"Most Americans do not view politics through uniformly liberal or conservative lenses," Pew said, "and more tend to stand apart from partisan antipathy than engage in it."

The problem for political strategists is that the center is hard to find and harder to figure. Pew called it "a combination of groups each with their own mix of political values" with "many distinct voices...often with as little in common with each other as with those who are on the left and right."

Pew broke the American electorate into eight groups. On the right are the Steadfast Conservatives and Business Conservatives. On the left are Solid Liberals. They are the most engaged—though they comprise 36 percent of the public, they account for 43 percent of registered voters.

Less partisan and predictable are:

--Young Outsiders. Tend to have conservative views about government’s role, but more open on social issues. Tend to dislike both parties.

--Hard-pressed skeptics. Pessimistic, having financial difficulties. Most voted for Obama, but many have soured on him.

--Next Generation Left. Younger, more liberal on social issues such as homosexuality. Wary of the cost of social programs.

--Faith and Family Left. Tend to back government programs but very religious and "uncomfortable with the pace of societal change."

--Bystanders. Ten percent of the public, "on the sidelines of the political process." Not registered to vote.

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