Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Californian models for Australian politics

Via Marc Cooper (here ) an interesting article in the LA Times of the rise of 'independents' in California politics, defined as voters without a set Republican or Democratic allegiance and tending towards economic conservatism and social liberalism:
Independents' attitudes, in contrast to that of Democrats and Republicans, don't fit neatly into traditional liberal and conservative camps. Instead, by traditional political measures, they often seem to hold contradictory opinions. As a group, they're more and more responsible for California's growing reputation as a green and socially moderate — but also fiscally conservative — state. Polls show that about 60% of California independents favour tougher environmental regulations over economic growth, support a ban on offshore oil drilling and believe that global warming is a serious problem. Independent voters are also among the strongest supporters of such social innovations as medical marijuana use, assisted suicide for the terminally ill, the morning-after pill and hybrid automobiles. They back gay and lesbian marriage by a 20-point margin and a woman's right to abortion by 3 to 1. At the same time, independents are largely responsible for keeping Proposition 13's anti-tax feelings alive. Most say they believe that government "wastes a lot of taxpayer money" and that Proposition 13 was a "good thing," according to the Institute's surveys. Philosophically, independents split from Democrats by favouring smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes. Still, an institute poll in January found independents supporting more money for education and health programs as well as proposed ballot measures to generate funds for healthcare and preschool.
These were the voters that were particularly attracted to Arnold Schwarzenegger but then swung against him due to his recent shift to the right, hence the November defeat of his referenda proposals. Cooper poses a good question:
One thing we know for certain from this info – as well as from recent election cycles – Republicans can't win statewide in California if they run too far to the right and alienate this vast swing constituency. But what is the lesson here for progressives? Is running as the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" the way to fire up these voters? Or are they looking for something new that transcends the current paradigm?
Cooper has a Christopher Hitchens style disdain for Clinton but Clinton appealed to these voters (and his legacy has made California safe for the Democrats in presidential elections). I would also like to know more about independent's views on immigration. Does such a constituency exist in Australia, it is certainly represented in the media (see Crikey as an example) and could we interpret the RU486 vote in this framework? I doubt it.


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