- . . . Over the past few decades, the electorate has become much better educated. In 1960, only 22 percent of voters had been to college; now more than 52 percent have. As voters become more educated, they are more likely to be ideological and support the party that embraces their ideological label. As a result, the parties have polarized. There used to be many conservatives in the Democratic Party and many liberals in the Republican Party, groups that kept their parties from drifting too far off-center.
Now, there is a Democratic liberal mountain and a Republican conservative mountain. Democrats and Republicans don’t just disagree on policies — they don’t see the same reality, and they rarely cross over and support individual candidates from the other side. As Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California at San Diego, has shown, split-ticket voting has declined steadily. . .
The question is whether this evolution changes the way we should think about elections. The strategists in the Intensity School say yes. They argue that it no longer makes sense to worry overmuch about the swing voters who supposedly exist in the political center because the electorate’s polarization has hollowed out the center. The number of actual swing voters — people who actually switch back and forth between parties — is down to about 7 percent of the electorate. Moreover, the people in this 7 percent group have nothing in common with one another. It doesn’t make sense to try to win their support because there is no coherent set of messages that will do it.
Instead, it’s better to play to the people on your own mountain and get them so excited they show up at the polls. According to this line of reasoning, Dean, Mr. Intensity, is an ideal Democratic candidate.
The members of the Inclusiveness School disagree. They argue that there still are many truly independent voters, with estimates ranging from 10 to 33 percent of the electorate. Moreover, the Inclusiveness folks continue, true independents do have a coherent approach to politics. Anti-ideological, the true independents do not even listen to candidates who are partisan, strident and negative. They are what the pollster David Winston calls “solutionists”; they respond to upbeat candidates who can deliver concrete benefits: the Family and Medical Leave Act, more cops in their neighborhoods, tax rebate checks. . .