Willam Galston writes at Brookings.com that the number of Republicans and Democrats who call themselves moderates has declined, but the shift is more pronounced becasue there are now more Americans who self-identify as conservative than liberal. And, neither side wants to find common ground.
The story thus far is one of moderate asymmetry: both parties have shifted away from the center, Republicans somewhat more so than Democrats. But a simple fact has accentuated the difference: Because there are twice as many self-styled conservatives as liberals, ideological sorting is bound to produce a more predominantly conservative than liberal party—even if the percentage-point shifts are comparable. As recently as 2000, moderates outnumbered liberals within the Democratic Party by 44 to 29 percent. Today, even after a sharp rise in the liberal share, liberals and moderates are essentially tied, 39 to 38. In 2000, conservatives already outnumbered moderates and liberals by 2 to 1 within the Republican Party, and now it’s 3 to 1. So while there is a liberal Pelosi wing and a moderate Hoyer wing in the House Democratic caucus, among House Republicans we find only shades of conservatism. (That is not to say that differences among Republicans don’t matter; just ask John Boehner.)
These numbers don’t tell the whole story, however. There’s another key development: above and beyond their ideological disagreements, conservatives and liberals have come to understand the practice of politics differently. In a survey taken right after the Republican sweep in the 2010 midterm elections, 47 percent of American said that it was more important to compromise in order to get things done, versus 27 percent who thought it was more important for leaders to stick to their beliefs even if little got done. Liberal Democrats weighed in on the side of compromise, 58 to 16, moderate Democrats by 64 to 17. But conservative Republicans (the overwhelming majority of their party) favored sticking to their beliefs by 45 to 26. Ten months later, after the debt ceiling fiasco, an outright majority of adults favored compromise, including 62 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of liberals. But pluralities of Republicans and conservatives continued to favor leaders who stuck to their beliefs.
Unlike most other Americans, conservatives seem to believe that compromise represents defeat. It would take a subtle historian to explain why. Perhaps they think that because so many forces are pushing in the direction of bigger and more intrusive government, compromise will alter the pace of change but not the direction. If so, a politics of intransigence represents their only hope; never mind the risks.