In the 2016 presidential election, roughly 137 million Americans voted, and about 100 million stayed home. Based on what I hear from my nationwide community of 450 voters, one-third of those who voted really struggled to make their choice, including people who literally made their decision in the voting booth. Today, most of those voters characterize themselves as moderates, rejecting the extremes of both parties and now open to voting either Republican or Democrat. Add voters who were once sure about their allegiances and now waver in the midst of our chaotic political climate, and I estimate that moderates — swing voters — now make up at least 40 percent of eligible voters.
Annie, for example, is a self-described moderate Republican from Virginia who works full-time as a dental hygienist and has two teenage sons. Although she voted for Donald Trump in 2016, she now detests the president’s tweets and lies, and believes that Jeb Bush was right when he predicted that Trump’s would be a “chaos presidency.” “He says one thing one day and denies that he said it the next day — and Hillary Clinton was right about his temperament,” she says. “And, I don’t have a lot of respect for any man that had an affair when his wife was pregnant.”
Ironically, if Annie had to vote all over again, she says she still would have voted for Trump, and she might vote for him again. She says she is repulsed by the man, and at the same time, she rattles off a long list of what she considers the president’s accomplishments: the booming economy, the decline of ISIS, and his commitment to our veterans. Annie is also open to voting for a moderate Democrat, but at the moment, she believes the Democrats are focused on “spewing anger and hatred, spending our tax dollars on investigations, and looking down on anyone who supports the president.”
She sounds a lot like Joe, an IT administrator from Nebraska who voted for Clinton. “Don’t get me wrong,” he says, “Donald Trump embarrasses me. I don’t like him, I don’t want him to be a role model for my children, and my wife calls him a thug. On the other hand, there are lots of politicians who are thugs, and as we have seen, both sides have their share of sexual assaulters, and people who will do anything for money. The thing with Trump is that I don’t feel he is getting credit for his victories. The economy is terrific, we are eliminating burdensome regulations, I have more money in my paycheck, and it looks like we are making progress with North Korea. Can we give the guy a break?”
Adds Melanie from South Carolina, who reluctantly voted for Trump, “I think I understand the anger directed toward the president, but I am maddened by the level of anger toward me, just because I voted for him. Democrats call me racist and bigoted and they don’t even know me. Why would I want to join their party?”
Annie, Joe, and Melanie represent a key segment of the American population: moderates who don’t like what they are seeing or hearing from either party, but who are gettable. They could vote either way. Capturing the imagination and support of these moderates could determine who wins the next two sets of elections — and at the moment, neither party is motivating them.
Who are these moderates? They are men and women, of all ages and from all parts of the country, who see themselves as the adults in the room. They are flipping channels to hear all sides, rejecting extreme viewpoints, lamenting hatred expressed by Americans about their fellow citizens, focusing on policy over politics, and asking everyone else to work together. The moderates are often socially liberal and fiscally conservative; they support increased gun control, a path to citizenship for Dreamers, and infrastructure spending. They believe that most of our political leaders are looking out for themselves rather than for our country, that compromise is an important and forgotten art, and that bias in the media is fueling our divisiveness even more than Trump is.
Says Jessica from Wisconsin, “If I had a magic wand, I would fire everyone who is currently in Congress, and would replace them with folks who actually know the meaning of a handshake — and who know how to hold a conversation without ranting like children.”
Brady from Illinois adds, “Last night I turned on the TV to see what was happening with our withdrawal from the Iran agreement and the return of North Korean prisoners, and instead, it was the Two Michaels (Avenatti and Cohen) nonstop. I get why people want to hear about them, but right now, let’s let Mueller figure it all out. I want to look at global issues, and instead, CNN and MSNBC are feeding me doom and gloom with gossip on the side.”
Here’s what these moderates have to say to Democrats: Stop the nastiness. Tell us what you are about other than hating Trump. Look at your winners lately and how much they sound like centrists, and find more of them to lead. And know that when you talk with disdain and arrogance to hard-working Americans who don’t live on either coast, they abandon you.
Here’s their advice to Republicans: Call Trump out on his boorishness and antics, and don’t defend his behavior. Support his policies, and work on infrastructure, health care, the opioid crisis, a path to citizenship for Dreamers, and national security. By some miracle, your party won, and it can win again with real progress in these areas.
And to both sides, the moderates want us to know this: Compromise is courageous. We are a country of Democrats and Republicans, all colors and all ages. Work for all of us, and return to respectful discourse, and that includes you, Mr. President.
Clarification: The voters in this column were given pseudonyms to protect their identity.
Diane Hessan is an entrepreneur, author, and chair of C Space. She has been in conversation with 450 voters across the political spectrum weekly since December 2016. Follow her on Twitter @DianeHessan.