This post is not based on data. It might could be, but it would have taken much longer to write, and it wouldn’t be more salient if it were. It’s true regardless of if the facts are a little bit off. This disclaimer is mainly to avoid taking anything here as data and rather focus on the concept.
Let’s start with a picture of how I see the political landscape. Again, it’s probably a bit different than this in reality, and there are some data that could clarify the picture somewhat, but the fact is that there’s no source for the actual picture. We live in Plato’s Cave, only ever seeing some shadow of what the actual body looks like.
In the first picture, we see a kind of funky bell-curve. As with this type of chart, the vertical axis shows how many people fall at each spot along the horizontal axis. The horizontal axis shows the conservative–liberal position. Most people still fall somewhere in the middle, but there’s a bit of lumpiness to the bell. Where does that lumpiness come from? Shouldn’t parties be shifting their policies and practices to smooth things out? Cue another picture.
Same picture, but with a second curve (in green) showing the media spread and three singularities of the media. This is a simplification, as is the conservative–liberal axis itself, but it helps to understand all the same. The media does have an influence on the electorate, for the same reason that most people are members or at least sympathetic to the religion they were raised in.
If you feel comfortable with your media, you are being fed particular types of stories about heavy subjects like economy, crime, immigration. If you haven’t looked around the internet, it’s a big fucking place. It’s a big old world. There’s too much data for anyone to really comprehend. Whatever selection of stories you read, hear about, it’s a tiny sample. You’re missing a lot of stuff, some of which is more important than what you’re seeing.
The media companies know this. They couldn’t give you all the stories you should see, but they can give you packages of slick content meant to do one of a few things, like sell you stuff or push politicians one way or another. The conservative media is all-in on that mission, where most other media sources feel at least some allegiance to reality even while they’ll gladly push views and products.
But that’s not the whole story, so let’s look at a third picture.
This picture shows how the political process ends up carving up that first bell-curve into actual votes and seats, without trying to break it down into House versus Senate versus state-legislatures.
The conservative politicians have to run to their side quite a bit, and the liberal ones either run to the middle or to their end, but not so far toward their end in most cases. The picture also shows a smaller curve, which accounts for a few things:
- Elector suppression
- Uncontested races
The latter, uncontested races, are caused by at least two factors. One is gerrymandering, where seats are made toxic to either party. In most cases, gerrymandering cuts against both parties, because they pack opponent voters into as few districts as possible and spread their own into as many as they can safely win. The second factor is the anti-primary attitude of both parties. This causes districts that aren’t contestable to not even have the choice to replace the feudal lord of the district.
At the bottom of the third image, we see a broad but side-skewed conservative bloc of seats, a mainstream-liberal bloc, and a thinner more liberal bloc. If I were better at image creation, the upper part would show some crossover in how that curve translates into seats. It’s not a full-on funneling, but it’s not as wrong as it might seem either.
There are other pressures that create the curve, that maintain it. Single-issue electors, racism, wealth and inequality, family origin (e.g., Americans from families with history in Cuba tend to favor Republicans because they believe it will result in time-machine-assassination of Fidel Castro).
But the result is something like what I drew.
As I’ve written about the idea of a Brand New Party, I’ve suggested there’s opportunity not to simply endorse Democrats. That gap at the bottom of the third image between conservatives and liberals is what I mean. A center-conservative party can exploit that gap. They can fit in there. There are voters above that gap that tend to be too conservative for Democrats, and there are Democrats in those districts who would gladly vote for the less conservative given a Democrat can’t win.