As an ordained person who has to interact with people who have a multiplicity of perspectives, I try to stay out of politics.  I don’t endorse candidates, I’m registered as an unaffiliated voter, I don’t talk about campaigns from the pulpit.  If people want to know what I think on a particular issue they are welcome to ask me and I’ll tell them, but I make sure they know it’s my opinion and my reasons for thinking a certain way.  If it’s a moral issue that the Church has a traditional position on, I’ll share that.  But that’s the extent of it.

This position has made me grateful for the option of registering as an independent or unaffiliated voter.  And yet, articles like this one from the Tennessean (Associated Press) bring to mind a political science essay I read several years ago.  First the Associated Press piece:

A Republican civil war is raging, with righter-than-thou conservatives dominating ever more primaries in a fight for the party’s soul. And the Democrats hope to benefit.

The latest examples of conservative insurgents’ clout came Tuesday at opposite ends of the country. In Florida, political newcomer Rick Scott beat longtime congressman and state Attorney General Bill McCollum for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. And in Alaska, tea party activists and Sarah Palin pushed Sen. Lisa Murkowski to the brink of defeat, depending on absentee ballot counts in her race against outsider Joe Miller.

The GOP is likely to survive its bitter intraparty battles in such states as Alaska and Utah, even if voters oust veteran senators in both. But tea party-backed candidates might be a godsend to desperate Democrats elsewhere — in Nevada, Florida and perhaps Kentucky, where the Democrats portray GOP nominees as too extreme for their states. {Read it all}

Whether one is talking about Democrats or Republicans, there is a tendency for candidates to play to their party’s base during a primary, throwing red meat to partisans who are revealed to be more extreme when taken in the context of the broader public, while they then run toward the middle in the general election.  All of this leads to broken promises, frustrated party members and an even more frustrated public as realistic legislation is either never proposed or gets torpedoed by ideology.

The political science piece I was thinking about–I’m sorry I can’t recall the source at the moment–suggested that the reason for this disparity between primaries and general elections stems from the very system I appreciate.  As more and more states allow unaffiliated or independent voter registrations, it has sapped both political parties of moderates.  No longer to people in the middle have to choose whether they are “more Democrat” or “more Republican.”  Instead, they can simply remain unaffiliated and still take part in elections.  This means that the only motivated participants in party politics are, well, partisans… that is, they are the more extreme members of the electorate and the policies they support reflect this, whether they are conservative or liberal.  And the preferences of the people on these extremes then set the agenda for both parties, leaving a vast swath of the American people unrepresented…perhaps by our own unwitting choice.