July 08, 2004

Define Centrist

[Sticky post alert: This stays up top until I get more responses. If you have a weblog of your own, you can help me out by linking it. Thanks!]

[Thanks, everybody. Overall quality of the responses was phenomenal.]

This is where I really wish I ever bothered to put a proper effort into maintaining this weblog, because I wish I had the traffic to do a large-scale survey. I don't, though, so I'll just ask you fine people:

Politically, what do you consider "moderate" or "centrist?" I mean, can you give me a sort of sample profile of a centrist? Maybe 1-3 lines describing where they'd likely be on various issues?

I know that totally sounds like I'm trying to assign the internet homework or something, but really, I'd like to know what lots of people think about this. I'd like to know even if you yourself are happily esconced on one of the far ends of the political spectrum--you can still tell me what positions you think qualify as centrist or moderate.

And oh please dear God do not anyone get up in my face and nitpick my framing of the question or my methodology or any of that, like some of y'all engineering types like to do. I'm just asking a damn question. If you don't like the question, don't answer it. Cool?

I have an enormous post I'd like to write about this whole deal, but I need input. So if you'd like to, be my input. (I know, it sounds so dirty put like that.)

Posted by Ilyka at July 8, 2004 11:59 PM in i don't know you tell me

A centrist: pro-choice, but not necessarily pro-abortion, and generally uncomfortable about the whole subject. Hawkish, but wants diplomacy first. Pro-anything-that-helps-old-people. Doesn't like taxes, but understands they help pay for things. Distrustful of politicians. Doesn't care about social security privatization. Doesn't like Rush Limbaugh or Michael Moore.

And I'll tell you what I told my wife when she told me, on our first date, what she was looking for in a guy -- "strong but sensitive, smart but humble, confident but unassuming, tall but short, thin but fat...." -- I told her, "you're never going to find such a person...get over it and get realistic."

Posted by: Jiminy at July 7, 2004 05:14 PM

And, now that I look at it...does this mean I'm your first.....input?

Posted by: Jiminy at July 7, 2004 05:15 PM

I like Jiminy's answer, except that he's right but wrong. On the particulars anyway. A good centrist is all about sticking it to the old folks, reducing the size of government, privatizing social security (in an effort to make sure there's some left for me...i mean "him").

Seriously though, a centrist is somebody who can recognize the benefits of both major party platforms without being married to either of them.

Posted by: Jim at July 7, 2004 07:49 PM

Jim, you have the best broad definition I think, but here I actually was looking for issue-level specifics, at least a little bit. I know the responses are going to vary by individual but that's fine.

Jiminy, I'm not even answering comment #2.

Posted by: ilyka at July 7, 2004 09:22 PM

I've always considered myself fairly conservative, right of center, more so as I've aged :) But I've taken a few of those political spectrum tests and have been very surprised to find myself pretty much smack in the middle.

Go figure!

Posted by: Ith at July 8, 2004 12:49 AM


1ne Mommy & Daddy didn't pay enough attention to within their childhood.

Seeking attention against subjex the mass is NINterested in.

Posted by: Curator at July 8, 2004 06:50 AM

Congrats, Curator. That answer catapults you straight past the previous winner of the coveted "Most 'WTF?'-inducing Comment" award, Rammer!

Posted by: ilyka at July 8, 2004 07:20 AM

I have always thought of a centrist as being someone that rides the fence-they can't completely commit to a side and can be convinced either way. A moderate is, to me, someone who has a stance but is neither massively right nor massively left.


Supports a ban on whaling, but then again those whales are an expendable resource, right?

Pro-gun yet wants crime reductions.

Environmentally friendly yet doesn't see why he shouldn't have an SUV for every member of the family.


Can be either Democrat or Republican, but isn't desperately so. I think of a moderate as being the few in each party that one can actually speak to and have a conversation with without having spittle sprayed on your face in a foamy preachy nightmare.

Posted by: Helen at July 8, 2004 01:28 PM

What the fuck is "NINterested"? "1ne"? What the fuck indeed. Learn English, you'll go far.

Okay, specifics for Ilyka...

Afghan war - pro, but not because of International support
Iraq war - pro, despite International pessimism
War on terror - very pro, homeland security is a major item.
Budget - would like this balanced.
Tax reform - would like this given more than lip service. Understands platform tax scheme isn't going away but still doesn't like it.
Tax rebates - of course. If the government overtaxed they must give the money back. They are a trustee, not an overseer.
Capitalism - let it work and it will.
Abortion - this should not be a Federal matter period.
Most things addressed Federally - should not be Federal matters period.

I think that last point is the money shot. The biggest points of contention that are bandied about as position issues are items that should not even be considered at the Federal level. Republicans and Democrats both want to use the Federal government to foist their opinions upon the masses. Centrists want the federal government to back off of most issues.

Posted by: Jim at July 8, 2004 01:30 PM

I'm going to have to go along with Jim here. I think that most moderates are going to have a variety of opinions on issues, both liberal and conservative, but I'm not sure that anyone can give you issue level specifics. Two people can have the same view on an issue, but still arrived at their conclusion from differing points of view.

For instance, one can make a conservative or a liberal argument both for and against abortion.

The only thing that I would add is that the Conservative and the Liberal are both so convinced that they're right, they're unwilling to look at things from any other point of view. A Moderate is willing to change their opinion when presented with new information.

Posted by: Easy at July 8, 2004 01:40 PM

On that last point, Easy, I don't necessarily attribute that quality to moderates. Anyone, with intelligence, is willing to listen to new facts. And if those facts challenge your stance, you either need to find where those facts fit into your view, or change your stance on that particular issue.

A good example would be with abortion. I would like to think that a good portion of pro-choice people would change their view if, tomorrow, the front page of the Times said, "Scientists Prove Beyond Doubt -- Life Begins At Conception." [I know that the Times would never print such an article, but you get my point.]

Sure, there'd be some people who stubbornly stick to their previous opinion. We don't call them un-moderate.

We call them closed-minded.

Posted by: Jiminy at July 8, 2004 02:56 PM

And about not answering comment #2, Ilyka...party pooper! Such possibilities, so wasted.

Posted by: Jiminy at July 8, 2004 02:59 PM

And, not that it proves my last point, but in a nice bit of serendipity, I followed a Drudge link to this: "Glimpse at Early Universe Reveals Surprisingly Mature Galaxies: Observations challenge standing view of how and when galaxies formed."

This is from: http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=14524

It's a perfect example of new facts changing an opinion.

Posted by: Jiminy at July 8, 2004 03:08 PM

Okay, I'm liking the increased mention of issues here a LOT, but no more A-word, and y'all know the one, because I don't want the thread derailed.

And I'll mention here--perhaps I should add it to the post--a bit about why I'm asking: See, I find that an awful lot of people identify themselves as centrist or moderate (just personally, I use the two terms synonymously) whether or not the views they hold actually lie anywhere in the middle. Ith kind of alludes to a backwards version of that phenomenon when she notes that she considers herself conservative but often tests centrist. Yeah, yeah, no test is perfect . . . .

Look, okay, another example: That survey of media professionals in which most of them identified themselves as moderates despite the majority of them espousing what were obviously very left-wing views. I mean, to me, you can't say you're for socialized medicine, state-owned media, and the total outlawing of guns, and then tell me you're moderate. Those views might all be very moderate, tepid stuff in the UK or Sweden, but in the U.S. those views are considered left.

Likewise, you can't tell me you're unequivocally opposed to abortion (sorry, Howard), want mandatory school prayer, and demand an end to Social Security, and tell me you're not a righty. Again, it's relative, because 80 years ago you could have been a moderate with those views in this country. But nowadays, buddy, you're on the right.

Now I suppose my hypothetical lefty could also be unequivocally opposed to abortion and might therefore consider himself a moderate for counting that conservative position among his other, leftier beliefs; likewise, I suppose my hypothetical righty could favor gun control and use that as a justification for calling himself moderate. But these would be very atypical positions for either hypothetical case to take.

So what's the mix? If you're only 80, 70, 60% down with one party's platform? If you're no more than 40% into any platform at all? If you pick and choose from several platforms?

Again: What do you think is "moderate?" Or is it just a vague meaningless term and maybe I should just run play Sims some more now?

Oh, and Jim? You and Trey are straight-up libertarians if you ask me. Which is why I'm voting Givens/Peacock this year, naturally.

Posted by: ilyka at July 8, 2004 03:22 PM

I'll give it a go:

Fiscally: Doesn't like paying taxes, but isn't willing to give up any of the big programs (Social Security, defense) that would significantly cut the budget. Ends up being a wash.

Foreign policy: Not isolationist, likes help from our allies.

Environment: Wants clean air, drives an SUV.

Abortion: Pro-choice.

Guns: Generally pro, but with Brady Bill type restrictions.

Gay Marriage: That's a toughie. Probably not in favor of marriage, but maybe civil unions.

Death Penalty: Pro.

Oh hell, let's make it easier: Sandra Day O'Connor. Her picture should be in the dictionary next ro centrist.

Posted by: mark at July 8, 2004 04:06 PM

Hi Jiminy, I am a Christian. Now I don't declare this to turn anybody off. Just so you know I believe humans are physical beings with non-physical souls. Independent from the abortion issue, I have and always will believe the soul "enters" the body at the first breathe when the entire physiology switches from a parallel heart/tissue system to the heart-lungs-heart-tissue-heart in series system. Many extraordinary changes take place with that first breathe. Part of my belief comes from the description of the "breathe of life" being "breathed" into Adam, the first red human.

Personally I avoid the abortion issue and recommend avoidance. I find abortion distasteful. I'm bothered that there are so many a year in numbers I cannot comprehend. I would hate to be in the responsible position of wondering what could have been if the first breathe was taken by even one of them. I'm bothered with a world not nearly full of people including many people who think it is over-crowded. It's not.

But this strays from ilyka's topic and I'll have to think harder about a definition for a political centrist. I find many of my left leaning friends want the same things I do; we differ in our reliance.

Posted by: Roger at July 8, 2004 04:56 PM

I think that being a moderate has to do with the fact that you don't completely subscribe to all of the views that people that are on the right or left have. For instance, you can be on the left because you are pro choice and pro union and anti guns BUT you don't like welfare and affirmative action or other entitlement programs. If those are your beliefs, you can not claim that you are a hard core liberal. As far as which end of the spectrum to choose if you are in the middle, you have to prioritize. Which issue is more important to you and which issues do you feel the most strongly about? Once you figure that out, you are good to go.

Also, I wouldn't get centrist confused with libertarian. Ilyka is right. Limited gov't is the libertarian mantra.

Posted by: The Baroness at July 8, 2004 05:46 PM

Almost everyone thinks they're a moderate, unless the phrase "passionately committed to the cause" doesn't remind them of mass graves, in which case they are PCTTC. No one refers to themselves as extreme, whether they're making excuses for Stalin and Kim Jong Il or think that Hitler just didn't go far enough, everyone is just trying to bring the light of sweet reason to the unwashed masses.

Given that, here's my two cents. A real moderate is someone who makes an honest effort to understand the world and get a real and verifiable image of how the world works. A real moderate will tend to value models of the world that have both predictive power and falsifiability. A real moderate will tend to eschew violent rhetoric because they have a keen awareness of the fallibility of human models (including their own).

It will frequently be difficult to distinguish a committed and engaged moderate from an apathetic non-political slug. One way to tell is that, since most real political disagreements between rational people come down to first principles the moderate will have first principles to defend and will know what they are.

'Moderate' is a description of worldview and level of self-control, not of where the 'midpoint' of the herd is at any given moment.

I think a 'moderate' position of first principles for a citizen of the United States would be:
1) a strong belief in the formal equality of all citizens of the U.S., and in the informal equality of all people everywhere.
2) A generally pessimistic view of human nature, directly correlated with
3) Mistrust of government or other power (because of the historic certainty that it will eventually be misused) and finally
4) A general belief that, to paraphrase Thomas Reed, the people have more sense than any of them do individually. Or perhaps, if we're altogether wrong, at least we'll all be wrong together.

Anyone who disagrees with me is clearly insane.

Posted by: The Extremist at July 8, 2004 07:57 PM

I'm going to stick to my guns here. A person's stance on a particular issue can be fit into either the Conservative or Liberal mold. Moderates tend to be more flexible, and willing to change their mind. Moderates will have some conservative stances, and some liberal stances, but not necessarily the same ones as other Moderates

I disagree that this is a merely a sign of intelligence. I've come across many intelligent people with an opinion or cherished belief that they will not challenge under any circumstances.

I also think that trying to nail down the "Moderate" positions is a mug's game. Most of the positions that I've seen posted here I'd consider to be conservative.

Perhaps the real truth is that a label is a slippery thing. No two people will have the same opinion on every issue.

Posted by: Easy at July 8, 2004 09:11 PM

Liberal - you have two cows, your neighbor has none, you feel guilty for being sucessful

Conservative - you have two cows, your neighbor has none, so?

Centrist - You have 1.4 cows, So does your neighbor, infact everyone has 1.4 cows. You feel very average.

Ok, that was part of a much longer joke on political definitions, funny while being brutally true. Point here is that I think you maybe trying to define something that doesn't exist in nature, only in statistics. I for instance am fiscally very conservative, but socially very liberal, I can tell you the two don't add up to middle of the road =)

On a side note Ilyka, I am an engineer, I got no problems with your wording of the question, its clear and understandable. About that cheap shot at engineers....you don't mention what kind of engineers, mechanical, civil, electrical, it makes a difference. Now as to the methodology of this insult....

Posted by: Dane at July 8, 2004 10:03 PM

Is a Centrist someone who realizes that slugging away for one party will never change the country to one specific view in their life time and would rather put effort toward progress they think both parties may compromise on? Of course it depends on the definition of progress.

Prohibition was considered the next step in "progress" after slavery was abolished. We see how far that idea went:-) Many prohibitionist considered possessing slave(s) to be a vice. Got rid of one vice, while the ball is rolling, hope to wipe out all vices. They intended to "perfect" humans. Went over like a lead balloon.

While pondering this centrist question I happened to think about how the government builds our roads and taxes us to do so. Ok. They also tax us for their efforts to come up with environmental regulation to protect streams and water. Semi-Ok as long as it is based on good science. Then they totally blow their environmental regulations while build a road; dig tons upon tons of pyrite out of a mountain and use it in all the road drainage ditches. Never measured the pH. Way beyond their capabilities. Now who should pay for the enviromental cleanup? Well I know who will.

And at the same time the country is discussing health care be taken away from the private sector and have government run it with yahoos who can't even check the pH of a non-biological sample while building a road. Simple stuff.

Like I mentioned earlier when I wrote without completely reading ilyka's comment:-). Many of my left leaning friends want the same thing(s) as I do. For example, better and affordable health care. The difference is in what and who we are willing to rely on to make health care even better than it is now.

Posted by: Roger at July 9, 2004 01:19 AM

There are two kinds of moderates: 1) those who hold a worldview that doesn't permit them to believe in truth and falsehood; and 2) those who are afraid of being cut out of the local social group by taking a stand.

The first kind of moderate hasn't a leg to stand on; but I still respect him because he has a real position and he won't waver from it: both sides are completely wrong and he'll tell you exactly why. These moderates are rarer than hen's teeth.

The second kind of moderate is a sad testament to intellectual laziness and is more plentiful than air. There's no way of classifying his position. His views morph into a watered-down mockery of the consensus opinion surrounding him.

Occasionally, this second form of moderate will imitate the first form if he perceives it to be trendy. The difference is that he will not be able to offer any legitimate reason for it.

Posted by: Me at July 9, 2004 02:39 AM

This is a great discussion. Even casting a wider net, a centrist in the USA would probably be considered reasonably right wing in much of Europe. So centrist is obviously relative to where you live. From my experience in Australia a centrist is likely to be pro-abortion; pro-war on terror but with reservations, especially on Iraq; pro-free trade but with protection for special industries and poor countries plus respect for labour and environmental rights; Budget should be balanced or in surplus (which it has been for years in Oz); tax cuts once the surplus gets big enough and once health and education spending are adequate; that Government has a limited but important role in balancing competing interests e.g. protecting consumers, preventing disfunction in markets, defending national interests etc.

There's plenty more but it always comes down to the same thing: a rejection of extremism and a fight to find a middle way. Even more important it is an ability to listen and understand all sides, picking the best and rejecting the worst. It seems to something sorely lacking in modern political debate.

Posted by: Simon at July 9, 2004 07:57 AM

From my personal "politics make my ears bleed and my eyes roll back but I at least try to stay informed" point of view:

1. "Moderate" and "centrist" are interchangeable.
2. A moderate/centrist has some liberal views, some conservative views, some in between views, and is unlikely to hold any view on the extreme right or left. Where they stand on each specific issue and which issues are priority is different from person to person.
3. A moderate/centrist is NOT necessarily wishy-washy or undecided. Lack of a stance on an issue could simply be a matter of "not enough information" or "it's not that important to me."
4. It does matter which type of engineer you're talking about.

Which is basically what everyone else has already said. And hasn't necessarily answered your question, either.

Posted by: Erica at July 9, 2004 08:16 AM

With 24 comments already it looks like I'm a little late to the party. I don't really have an answer, just a couple of observations.

I've noticed that a lot (most?) people consider themselves to be moderate or centrist even if they are far Left or far Right. This probably accounts for Conservatives claiming the media is Left-biased and Liberals claiming it is Right-biased.

Personally I strongly agree with Liberals on some issues and strongly agree with Conservatives on other issues. It seems like we're expected to accept the complete package - either Liberal or Conservative - or else be considered a traitor by both sides. I hate that. I also hate that some people think all moderates are just people who "lack conviction" or "can't make up their mind." I'm sure there are some people like that but there are also a lot of people who are in the middle because they have a strong conviction that that is the right place to be.

Posted by: Lynn S at July 10, 2004 03:54 AM

By Mark's definition, I am a centrist to the T.

Posted by: Lauren at July 10, 2004 11:45 PM

Well, except on the SSM bit.

Posted by: Lauren at July 10, 2004 11:48 PM