Sometimes you will hear the narrative that there is a broad political center in the United States whose policies would be executed if only the two parties could figure out how to work together in a bipartisan way. If you think just a little bit about this statement, it seems obviously crazy: the Republicans are completely controlled by the super-rich, and the Democrats enormously influenced by the super-rich as well. The ‘compromise’ positions we see that the parties are supposed to rally around are things like the Grand Bargain, with the Democrats accepting cuts to entitlement spending in exchange for Republicans accepting modest tax increases on the wealthy. It’s hard to see this as a broad national coalition for sensible compromise, when the entitlement cuts are massively unpopular, while increasing taxes on the wealthy is incredibly popular. If there’s any actual national consensus on what needs to be done, it’s in favor of a range of social democratic policies well to the left of the current Overton Window. So why do we hear this described as the ‘centrist’ position?

The answer is that you need to stop pretending that voters are the primary constituency for modern American politicians. Their constituencies are their donors. So you shouldn’t be thinking about the median voter theorem, you should be thinking about the median donor theorem. It’s basically like the median voter theorem, except everyone’s opinion is weighted by the amount of money they might donate, meaning that most people’s opinions are weighted at roughly zero, while a few are massively influential. This implies that the political landscape to pay attention to is the gradations of opinion within the donor class.

And once we’re looking at the donor class, everything starts to make sense. The Democrats are dominated by the donors with enough compassion or fear of revolution to make an effort at improving the well-being of the lower classes. The Republicans are dominated by the donors who either out of self-interest or class-interest just want to suck up as much money into their own pockets / the pockets of the super-rich in general as possible. The big centrist coalition are the mass of relatively a-political rich people who think the Democrats are going a little far in giving their money away to poor people, but think that the Republicans are going a little far with wanting to smash the poor into tiny bits. These are the guys funding No Labels, or Fix the Debt, or yearning for Michael Bloomberg to run for President.

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