No big surprise, but the Nov. 4 election for Congress is expected to result in a slight gain for Republicans. Elections, after all, are a necessary contest of ideas about governance.
But the real story of the 2014 campaign might be this: More voters show a taste for politicians willing to meet their adversary halfway.
In the trench warfare of today’s American politics, acts of cooperation would be quite a stretch. Yet half of voters now say they favor candidates who would compromise on difficult issues rather than stick to their positions, according to a poll for The Wall Street Journal and NBC News. That is up from 34 percent just four years ago.
In fact, voter support for breaking the partisan gridlock in Washington is as strong as that for job creation and economic growth (23 percent). And this public shift toward collaborative politics applies to all voters, whether Democratic, Republican, or independent.
Most polls and journalists tend to shove voters into competing camps, which only helps polarize politics or drive a sensational news story. Indeed, a Pew Research Center poll last spring found the proportion of Americans who identify themselves as hard-core liberals or conservatives has doubled since 2004 from 10 percent to 21 percent. And each side in that minority of voters is more likely to see the other as an enemy, or associate with those with similar views, or consume media that merely confirm their perspective.
A majority of Americans, however, still prefer to mix and match their views on issues, which may explain the rise in independents from 34 percent to 44 percent over the past decade. Many of these voters are Millennials, or those ages 18 to 32, who are disrupting normal politics with their distrust of traditional institutions in favor of digital activism and private-sector solutions.
The percentage of Millennials who say government tends to be wasteful and inefficient has risen steadily to more than half. They reject the ideological stridency of their boomer parents and they seek other means of political engagement.
One election does not a trend make. Yet these latest polls hint that the 2014 vote might be more revealing than a slight power shift in Congress. They suggest Americans are looking more for what unites them.