I was struck first by the headline.
“Americans now see both political parties as equally extreme,” it said.
The observation appeared on an analysis by The Washington Post’s Philip Bump examining the results of a recent survey by CNN. That survey found perceptions of each party's alignment with the mainstream to be about equal.
“Roughly half of the public, 52%, say they see the views and policies of the Democratic Party as generally mainstream rather than too extreme, with 54% saying the same of the Republican Party,” the network said in reporting the results.
The results were somewhat predictable.
“Partisans are generally comfortable with their own party,” the report said, noting that 90% of Republicans and an identical 90% of Democrats consider their own party to be mainstream.
“Just 13% of Americans view both parties as too extreme,” it said.
Bump compared the latest findings to the poll results in 2013, the year 56% of respondents had deemed the Republican Party too extreme.
“For the Republican Party, there was a big surge between 2010 and 2012 that peaked just after the government shutdown in 2013,” he wrote. “Since then, the percentage of people saying that the Republican Party is too extreme has dropped.”
That’s true among every partisan group, Bump wrote. At the same time, perceptions of the Democratic Party growing too extreme have been on the rise. The number was around 42% in 2012. It's now edging closer to 50%.
Over that period, Republicans have seen an 11-point increase in their likelihood of describing the Democrats as too extreme.
Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising given the way Democrats are portrayed in conservative media.
Spend a few minutes listening to the talking heads on Fox News, and you might get the idea that Democrats are all socialists.
They believe in government handouts and an end to the American dream. They support open borders, and they want to defund the police.
You might even come to believe Democrats are evil, that they stand against all that is good and right in the world. Not to mention they’re kind of dumb.
They hate Donald Trump, and they just can’t let go of that Jan. 6 protest that admittedly might have gotten a little bit out of hand.
Democrats, of course, have a different take.
They see themselves standing for a living wage. They believe no one should be homeless.
They believe access to quality medical care is a human right and that politicians should not be making medical decisions for women.
They believe everyone should have a shot at college and no child should ever have to worry about being shot at school.
They believe companies should not be paying their chief executives 3,000 times what they pay their rank-and-file workers. They believe in taking care of the planet.
Democrats see all of these as mainstream positions, and they see the Republican Party, the one that can’t quite bring itself to reject a man who sought to overturn the result of a free and fair election, as the one that might be moving too far to the extreme.
In his assessment, Bump referred to a comparison of attitudes in surveys taken nine years apart.
“What that analysis showed is that Democrats in 2021 were more likely to call themselves liberal than they were in 2012,” he wrote. “Republicans were also more likely to call themselves conservative, though they moved to the right less than Democrats moved to the left.”
It’s worth noting that while Republicans might be holding steady on the ideological spectrum, they had already moved farther than the Democrats from that moderate middle where most Americans tend to place themselves.
Early in his analysis, Bump posed a question we might all do well to ponder.
“If the extreme becomes normal,” he asked, “is it still extreme?”
I’m guessing most Americans might tell him the answer is yes.