The common sense logic of elections is for the candidates to run to the center to be able to attract the most voters. Specifically, candidates must court the vote of “swing” voters, those voters who are not swayed by candidate personality or partisanship. These voters are likely to vote but that vote is genuinely up for grabs. However, this center is generally not well-represented by candidates as they instead court their partisan bases. As these bases have gotten more ideologically polarized this denotes candidates run for ideological campaigns and the swing voters get abandoned. But do candidates get punished for this move?
New research says no. Instead candidates are much more likely to get punished for things like economic conditions. While this does not mean extremism is not punished by voters to some degree, but there is “little evidence of an electorally important relationship between candidate extremism and vote outcomes”.
In other words, there is little incentive for candidates to not court the more ideologically inclined. As this chart of 2016 presidential candidates demonstrates, the major political parties do not run candidates who are ideologically-similar to the American political center. If the parties begin with candidates who are extreme the American public is relying on the campaign season to moderate those positions. While there has been some evidence of that this campaign cycle it would be difficult to argue that Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump are ideologically moderate.
But at this juncture there is no incentive to moderate. As long as the candidates can pick up the base votes swing voters are left out. So as swing voters feel left out this election season they must keep in mind that once the two major candidates have been chosen it is too late. The process of getting your voice heard begins much sooner.
Swing voters must not decide the election, they must decide the candidates.