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What Is a Political Moderate?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The term political moderate can generally be used to describe someone who doesn't hold views on the far edges of the political spectrum. Some of these people may identify with a particular party, or they may describe themselves as independents. If they consider themselves members of a party, a political moderate will often be open-minded about ideas from the opposition parties, and they generally aren't very partisan on many issues.

The actual stance on issues of a political moderate can vary significantly depending on the era and the country they live in. As issues change, the concept of politically moderate viewpoints changes as well. Many people who would have been described as political moderates in the 1800s could be considered fringe extremists in more recent times, and the same can be true for different countries or locations. For example, a moderate viewpoint in one nation might be on the far fringe in another nearby country, and the reasons for these differences may be cultural or religious.

Some individuals who could be described as political moderates actually hold some beliefs that aren't necessarily considered middle-of-the-road. In cases like this, the designation of political moderate is based on the whole spectrum of their political beliefs. Even though they may hold a few beliefs on the far edges, their overall philosophy is much more centrist. Many moderates don’t really feel comfortable with any political party, but their views often lean in one direction or another to some degree.

The viewpoints of political moderates can sometimes be ignored by the media because they aren't often as vocal. In most cases, those with the most extreme beliefs are also much more politically active, and they can create the perception of a more divisive political environment. Moderates often outnumber those on the far edges, but sometimes their view is ignored by legislators. Some people think that the mainstream media purposely creates the perception of more extreme political division, possibly in order to generate better television ratings and print media sales. Many media outlets have consistently disputed this viewpoint.

Sometimes political moderates are less active in politics overall when compared to people with more aggressive viewpoints. They may be less passionate about issues, or they may pay less overall attention to politics on a day-to-day basis. In most cases, moderates aren't as well-organized, and those on slightly different sides of the issues may have pretty big disagreements with each other, which could make it hard for them to work together. This might be part of the reason why legislators sometimes ignore their beliefs or cater their campaigns to more partisan views.

What Are Moderate Political Views?

While it’s true that moderate political views inherently involve a position of compromise, it’s not accurate to say that moderates do not have strongly-held beliefs. There are some issues that moderates may not agree on even though they do not have party-line views. For example, a moderate political view may be that abortion should remain federally legalized, but at the same time hold conservative views such as that drug laws should be stricter or illegal immigration laws should be more restrictive. A moderate may be socially liberal but economically conservative. They may believe that underserved communities should get federal help, but also that spending should be kept to a minimum to make that happen.

One belief that most moderates have in common is that all sides have some merit and that all points of view need to be considered. They do not discount one side’s views just because they tend to be associated with a particular political party and they feel less inclined to follow party-line views.

How Common Are Moderate Political Views?

More than you might think, though you may not notice it. One argument for why is that news media tends to focus on extremist political views because they’re the loudest voices in politics. Extremists thus tend to get far more attention than moderates because they’re sensational and provoke an emotional response. However, according to a Gallup poll in 2020, 35% of Americans identify as moderates. Compare this to 25% who identify as liberals and 36% who identify as conservatives.

At the same time, the percentage of people who identify as moderates is waning: In 1992, 43% of Americans identified as moderates. This is a different question than asking who identifies as Democratic, Republican, or independent, however, as the largest percentage of Americans identify as independent.

You might think that because slightly more people identify as conservative than moderates that the Republican party would be the most popular political party, but this is not the case according to a 2022 Gallup poll. Independents maintain the largest political affiliation at 46% of Americans followed by those who identify as Democrats at 28% which in turn is closely followed by Republicans at 24%.

In short, moderate political views are common. At the same time, just because someone holds moderate political views doesn’t necessarily mean they identify as independent nor does it mean they do not lean one way or the other. Many people identify as left-leaning or right-leaning centrists and these people would also be considered moderates.

Why Don’t Moderates Always Identify as Conservatives?

One argument is that moderates tend to be less interested in social and cultural issues than conservatives. Many conservatives consider social issues related to LGBTQ+ and race relations to be important to them, but this is generally not the case with moderates who are more focused on economics, foreign affairs, or environmental issues.

What is the Difference Between a Moderate Democrat and a Moderate Republican?

Since moderates by definition do not fully agree with party-line opinions, there are both Moderate Democrats and Moderate Republicans. A Moderate Democrat could be described as someone who holds moderate views but primarily identifies as a member of the Democratic Party, and a Moderate Republican holds moderate views but primarily identifies with the Republican party. What each has in common is that they are opposed to extremism and will vote for the other side if they believe their party's candidate is too radical. In the 2020 presidential election, many Moderate Republicans voted for the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, because Donald Trump was commonly seen as too extremist which helped to cost Trump reelection.

What Are Some Examples of Moderate Political Parties and People?

In Britain there exists a political party called the British Liberal Democrats who support both liberal and conservative viewpoints. For example, they support same-sex marriage but harsher immigration policies.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was a member of a center-right party who held liberal views such as legalizing same-sex marriage and having more lenient drug laws. He supported high taxes on the wealthy and introduced a 75% income tax rate for those making over 150,000 euros a year. This made him extremely popular with centrists and moderates.

In Rhode Island, a federally recognized party is the Moderate Party which became ballot-qualified in 2009.

Abraham Lincoln may be the most famous moderate of all. The first Republican President, Lincoln was socially liberal and progressive with his anti-slavery views and opposed the socially conservative south. However, he supported—though also criticized—the “Free Soil” libertarian view of states’ rights. If you’re only familiar with politics in the modern era, know that the Republican and Democratic parties were vastly different during Lincoln’s era than they are today.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1005550 — On Sep 21, 2021

I would agree with Amy Pollick that the primary word that applies to moderates is pragmatism. Unfortunately, your definition doesn't recognize this. Why would people form moderate views? One of the logical drivers to embracing a moderate approach is that you can clearly observe that extremist views, which often heavily rely on comfortable theories and often ignore available evidence, frequently -- actually usually! -- don't work. Another driver is that needs don't go away simply because solutions can often be messy, and less than perfect.

Extremists on both sides often don't make progress on improvements because they insist on their doctrinally "perfect" solutions. This can be partly seen in the evidence after the Northeastern power grid had a major crash in 2002. The lengthy blackout revealed that it was antiquated, and yet hardly any improvements on that, or any other infrastucture -- including borderline dangerous bridges -- have been accomplished in almost 20 years. Rather, we watched the extremists fail largely because the 2 sides -- it honestly appears one more than the other, focused more on enhancing their political prestige -- rather than practical solutions to benefit America. In that sense, moderates tend to embrace President Obama's philosophy of "not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good".

Moderates don't "crave" the center, but they are often forced to operate in the center from the hope that they can nudge both extremist sides to practical solutions that will result in practical, if imperfect, improvements. "You need to crawl before you can walk", for example. But it's not that we desire to crawl. We'd rather run, whenever possible and necessary. But we are often strapped on one side by those who want to do nothing, partly because they are comfortable (whether anyone else is, or even whether the conditions of their comfort actually in some ways harm others) and the other extreme, who seem to believe there are magic wand solutions to everything. Someone once said that "those who do nothing are still making a decision." Moderates choose to do the best that they can whenever they can, and to do so is appropriate, rather than wait for the perfect solutions.

I am one of those who believe that most people are reasonable and agree with this. And agree that Libertarianism is an unrealistic philosophy and that people initiated governments to do the best they can and deal with societal issues -- and sometimes refrain when it would do more harm than good. We believe that government is not some evil, artificial construction, but a creation that reflects the will of the people for reasonable, rational management where needed. How much government do moderates believe is the right amount? Only as much as we need. An imperfect view, but a pragmatic and reasonable one.

Unfortunately, two forces have created the myth that most Americans aren't reasonable, pragmatic moderates. One is the extremists, who have to try and convince everyone that there views are the "right" views by trying to convince people that all but a few "deviants" think exactly like they do. The other is the mainstream media (though it's vastly superior to the purposely biased media that labels itself conservative or liberal) that practices (my degree is in broadcasting and I worked in news at a low, part time level so I've have heard this many times) "if it bleeds, it leads." That refers to crime, but it also influences the thinking that conflicts between the right and left grab more ratings/readers than realizing that there are plenty of people who believe the best way is to hammer out a workable solution, whether that places us in the "center" or not.

In other words, being moderate is not clinging to the center, or being "wishy-washy" or being an ethically challenged "compromiser", but in just trying to get something useful done. Whether that places you in the middle, on the right, on the left, or from "another planet" is irrelevant! And we're still convinced that most people feel that way! But, if moderates don't speak up, the extremists and their unwitting mainstream media allies, may succeed in placing us all at each others' throats!

By anon1004049 — On Nov 03, 2020

The idea of a moderate is not to lean at all! Once we lean, we are a member of that party, even if we declare independence. The lean gives conservatives or progressives a comfort knowing that there is nothing in the middle, and everyone is either right, or left. If you lean, you are not with the independents, you are are with blue or red. A bulls-eye in the center of the line is the shot we need to hit, per se. We are the third party, but leaning is the issue we are having.

By anon998741 — On Aug 16, 2017

Suntan12 - wrong. You're comparing the misnamed "Republican" Party with Republican values. The "Republican" Party is not Republican - it is conservative and has been since 1960.

Conservative ideology is in complete opposition to the Republican Values established in the 1850s. A real Republican would never be in favor of anti-abortion laws -- that is a conservative viewpoint designed to take away a woman's right to choose and keep women in line with the archaic conservative viewpoint.

Republicans would never support putting up another wall that doesn't work or prevent Mexicans from coming across to pick fruit. Hauling drugs? - Yes. Raping underage prostitutes? - Yes. But not fruit.

Republicans supported the end to Slavery. Republicans were Blue Coats not Gray Coats. Republicans vehemently opposed the KKK and their racist crap. Republicans supported giving women the right to vote. Republicans opposed Hitler and his moronic racist ideology. Republicans supported the Equal Rights bills of 1957 and 1960, the desegregation of our schools and establishing equality among all races and sexes.

Conservatives stole the Republican moniker for their own nefarious purposes and destroyed everything the Republicans worked for to make this planet a better place for everyone to live, based on equality and mutual respect for each other's views.

Conservatives need to quit hiding behind the "Republican Party" name and give it back to the people who are actually Republicans: Risenhower Republican, Lincoln Republican, Jefferson Republican.

Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Bush, McCain, and everybody else who ran, including Trump, are all conservatives, not Republicans. -- Brad H.

By anon993505 — On Nov 20, 2015

I consider myself a moderate because I hold views that are all over the political spectrum. I might side with Republicans on one issue and Democrats on another issue or somewhere in between. Examples: I am pro-Christian (right) and pro-gay rights (left). I am also anti-immigration (moderate right) and pro-civil rights (left). I am pro-death penalty and pro-abortion.

By amypollick — On Oct 10, 2013

@Kelsey177: I consider myself to be a right-leaning moderate, and I would say the hallmark of a moderate is probably pragmatism. I am practical and tend to look for the common sense answer to an issue. I suspect most of my fellow moderates would agree. Some would say one solution might make more sense than another, but in general, we look for the practical, common sense solution.

For an issue like drilling in the NAWR, I'd say the first thing a moderate would want to know is how drilling would affect the environment. Can these effects be minimized or reversed? If not, then clearly, the drilling would end up being more destructive than helpful in the long term.

If the environmental effects can be minimized, will the cost of drilling actually reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil? If so, then that's a strong reason to investigate it. How long can we expect the supply to last? That's another factor.

I would say, for many moderates, it all boils down to whether the cost of drilling and the possible environmental damage would outweigh the potential (but by no means certain) benefits. Each person must answer that for him or herself. But that's one moderate's view on it, in brief. It's a complex issue.

My Western Civilization professor, in response to a student's question about the different political leanings, said, "Well, if a person had a problem with the bank, if he were a reactionary, he might burn down the bank. A conservative would contact the bank president with his dissatisfaction and might close his account. A moderate would call the bank president, write a letter to the editor of the newspaper, and might or might not close his account. A liberal would do all of the above, and depending on the nature of the offense, boycott the bank. A revolutionary would burn down the bank." That's probably the best description I've ever heard.

By Kelsey177 — On Oct 10, 2013

What is an example of a moderate viewpoint on oil drilling at the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge?

By anon285190 — On Aug 14, 2012

Abraham Lincoln was a moderate Republican.

By cupcake15 — On Nov 10, 2010

SurfNturf-One of the rising stars that the Tea Party supported was Marco Rubio, the newly elected senator in Florida.

Marco Rubio got almost 50% of the vote in a three way race. He is the product of the American Dream. His parents emigrated from Cuba to escape communism and form a better life. His mother worked in a factory while his father was a bartender.

He grew up in West Miami, and to this day lives about four blocks from his childhood home. He graduated from the University of Miami law school and became an attorney and later Speaker of the House in the Florida state legislature.

His life story is a compelling and inspirational one that many people can relate to. His conservative values come from a belief that allowing people to be the best they can be is the best thing that any society can offer.

He believes that the United States offers the best opportunities for anyone willing to work hard. He is a self made man that has been compared to the likes of President Ronald Reagan. His speeches are deeply eloquent and inspirational. He is a true asset to the Republican Party and many believe he has a strong chance of becoming President one day.

By surfNturf — On Nov 10, 2010

Suntan12-Republicans believe in a limited government with reduced taxes on individuals and businesses in order to simulate the economy.

They are against government spending on entitlement programs or excessive government regulation which many moderate Republicans supported.

Many believe that this is the reasoning for the rise in the Tea Party movement. The Tea Party although mostly identified with the Republican Party is really not aligned with a political party per se.

It is a movement to bring America back to its founding principles. The Tea Party has filled this vacuum in American politics, but many establishment Republicans that often vote with the Democrats despise this movement because it threatens their very existence.

The Tea Party has many independents and even some Democrats as part of the movement who has shifted their views to political conservatism. Senator Jim Demint, from South Carolina and Govenor Palin from Alaska are said to be king makers of this movement and seek out candidates that share this political modernity.

By suntan12 — On Nov 10, 2010

GreenWeaver-Sometimes when a Democrat or Republican has moderate political values it may frustrate the pure ideological branch of their respective parties.

Conservatives in the Reagan wing of the Republican Party believe that conservative ideology should be central to any policy or decision.

They often feel that “Establishment Republicans” who compromise their principles weaken the Republican Party. Often these Republicans will vote for additional spending bills that will enlarge the federal deficit which is something that is against the Republican Party platform.

They may also vote for abortion expansion or amensty which are also anti-Republican measures.

By GreenWeaver — On Nov 10, 2010

Political ideological viewpoints of a conservative Democrat is often at odds with its party. Usually the moderate stance which is viewed by the more staunch Democrats as lacking loyalty to the Democrat platform is practiced at the disgust of the party.

For example, the Democrat platform believes in a large central government with many regulations that are funded by tax payer money. In addition, they are usually anti military and prefer a protectionist stance in foreign policy.

They often view diplomacy as the only option when dealing with foreign leaders, even those that may harm us.

However moderate Democrats may opt to lower taxes and offer tax cuts to businesses in order to stimulate the economy. This moderate political view goes against the traditional Democrat platform and is viewed as a more conservative viewpoint.

For example, congress recently tried to introduce a Cap and Trade Bill that would tax the energy industry and make gasoline prices go through the roof in order to maintain the environmental standards of the bill.

Joe Machin, a moderate Democrat out of West Virginia, developed graphic campaign ads that used a rifle to shoot through this legislation. He knew that this legislation would destroy the coal industry in West Virginia which is a vital part of their economy.

Although he went against his party, he was elected to the Senate. It is rumored that the Republicans are now courting him to switch parties.

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