In our opinion: A centrist populace

Published: Monday, Oct. 21 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Legislators meet during the final day of legislature at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City Thursday, March 14, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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New data shows the majority of Americans hold beliefs closer to the center of the political spectrum than to either ideological edge, which gives validation to efforts in Utah to reform the system in which candidates for office are selected.

A poll conducted for NBC News and Esquire Magazine more or less confirms what other surveys have shown – that on most major issues of the day, the voice of the majority is channeled neither by those on the strident left nor the bellicose right. Most people live in a middle territory, a place where elected representatives in Washington have been woefully reluctant to visit.

The survey, which was conducted by pollsters who worked on both sides of the last Presidential election, comes just as public hearings are held throughout Utah on the Count My Vote petition drive to reform the state's caucus system for selecting candidates. The premise behind the campaign is that the current system rewards those who push more extreme positions, and tends to drown out those more moderate and less activist.

Any system that limits the voice of the majority is not a system that can honestly refer to itself as a champion of representative government. The same can be said for the process that allows legislatures to engage in so-called gerrymandering.

At the moment, the argument is over Utah's peculiar caucus system, which – it must be admitted — is not without its virtues. It is truly a vehicle for grassroots participation. But the state has seen how a relatively small number of people can dominate the system through organized activism, and those more dogmatic in their beliefs tend to be the ones more likely to become so organized.

Caucus supporters argue that moving to a system of direct primary elections simply rewards those less committed to participating in the electoral process. But the flip side of the argument is that the current system tends to punish a large number of more moderate voters, not because they are apathetic, but because they are simply not as loud.

In Utah, the quiet majority tends to skew right of center, but near to the center nonetheless, according to numerous polls and surveys. That these people find little in common with the views of many candidates is one of the underlying causes of low voter turnout and high anxiety over the current state of political discourse.

Anything that bolsters respect and confidence in our system of government is worthy of support. That includes efforts to break down barriers that have kept a large number of voting citizens from enjoying a proportionate voice in the selection of candidates.

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