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.