'Mushy middle' swing voters are few these days

Chris Bowers: Right now, all of America is the "Democratic base."
Editor's note: Guest post by Chris Bowers of MYDD.

For all of the cranky, "things were better in my day" whining from the 55 and older set with the media and political establishment about a mythical, lost golden age of American politics where moderation and bi-partisanship ruled, the fact is that the vast majority of voting Americans don't reside anywhere near the "middle" ideological or partisan spectrum of American politics. This is not a difficult premise to demonstrate. Voters are making up their minds earlier than ever before, with only 4.7% of the population changing their mind even once during the 2004 presidential campaign, and almost no one even considering both Kerry and Bush. This phenomenon is not restricted to presidential elections either, as the number of undecided voters in all polls for all elections has been on the decline for thirty years. Partisanship has increased to such an extent that the incumbent rule no longer even exists. The number of "swing states" continues to gradually decline, while the number of "landslide counties" continues to rapidly rise. "Independents" continue to turn out at low rates. Animosity toward members of other parties and, for that matter, anyone who disagrees with you on anything has never been higher.

The fact is, that for all the attention that is paid to the mushy-middle "swing voter," the overwhelming majority of America sits closer to the poles. The bases represent America better than the middle, and recent electoral results prove it:
Congressmen from competitive districts do not appear to have any more success in their bids for higher office than those from non-competitive districts. Since 2002, 36 sitting congressmen have run for higher office, half of whom won. However, representatives from competitive districts - those with a PVI of between D+5 and R+5 - were considerably less successful, winning just five of their thirteen races. Even in those swing states that Kerry or Bush carried with less than 55% of the vote, representatives from competitive districts won just three races and lost six.
A more accurate indicator of a congressman's success in running for higher office appears to be whether his or her district is in-sync with the state as a whole; that is, representatives running for higher office in a blue state are more likely to win if they hail from a blue district and vice versa. Of the 18 congressmen who won their bids for higher office, only one came from a district that was out-of-sync with the state.
This pattern is particularly evident in non-swing states (those who voted more than 55% for Bush or Kerry). In these states, representatives who came from less competitive districts were the most successful. For example, in the solid red states, congressmen from the seven reddest districts all won their bid for higher office. In solid blue states, all the congressmen who ran came from very blue districts and all were victorious. Those from more competitive districts didn't appear to have any discernible advantage; rather, they were considerably less successful.
Elected officials in the "middle" do not better represent America as a whole, because most of America is not in the middle.
Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet.