Tim Hibbitts describes election trends, details to Columbia Forum audiencePolitical compromise is becoming increasingly rare as moderates in the Democratic and Republican parties are replaced by representatives on the fringes. There is little evidence to suggest this polarization will reverse, said pollster Tim Hibbitts, who spoke to Columbia Forum Tuesday night.
Hibbitts called this electorate the most "wound up, ginned up" electorate he's ever seen. There are still a few absentee ballots that need to be tallied. Approximately 117.2 million people voted.
A guest lecturer at universities and political analyst on KATU-TV, Hibbitts spoke about Oregon races, including the not-so-tight competition for the 1st Congressional District seat, as well as the national political climate. Throughout the evening, Hibbitts returned to the ideological divide of the two parties and the problems of pigeonholing voters.
He said moderates in both parties have been chased out. For example, five Southern Democrats lost their seats this election. He said gerrymandering in districts has helped to keep incumbents in place and allowed candidates on the edges to avoid competition that might result in a middle-of-the-road politician getting elected.
"There's still a few here, kind of like rare birds," Hibbitts said of moderates.
Neither party campaigned down the center, he said.
"When you put Michael Moore in your convention box, you really aren't playing to middle America," he said, referring the "Fahrenheit 9/11" film maker who sat with Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz, at the Democratic Convention.
During the forum, Hibbitts also emphasized how overreaching it is to try to pigeonhole voters, especially when looking at the red state - blue state divide, which in reality is more a question of urban vs. rural.
He said nationally, 6 percent of voters who voted for George W. Bush are pro same-sex marriage, while an even larger percentage of Bush supporters, about 17 percent, support civil unions. He said many people wrestle with the issue of gay marriage.
Mocking the conventional wisdom, he said: "Everyone who voted for Bush in a red state is a knuckle-dragging troglodyte. Well, that's not true," said Hibbitts, who calls himself a raging centrist. "Some people are (at the fringe), but others are nuanced voters."
Hibbitts said terrorism affected races across the board. President Bush's vote count in 49 of 50 states was higher than he achieved in 2000, with Vermont the only exception.
"Fairly or unfairly, Bush was perceived as the tough guy," he said.
He said while the economy didn't help Bush, it wasn't a disaster for him like it was for presidents Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter.
Other forum questions focused on the influence of faith in politics and the effects of radio talk show hosts like Lars Larson and Rush Limbaugh. On faith, Hibbitts said he didn't remember the liberals complaining in the 1960s when clergy became involved in the civil rights movement.
"The idea that this is the American Taliban is just absurd," he said.
Of Fox News and other biased news outlets, he said the effect on most undecided voters was minimal because voters don't turn to a hard left or hard right talk show host for information.
"However, people are deciding more and more to get their news from outlets they agree with," he said.
Hibbitts also addressed The Oregonian story that detailed actions by Rep. David Wu during his college years. Before the story broke, Wu was 20 points ahead in the polls. After the news came out, Hibbitts said the Republican challenger Goli Ameri's campaign wanted to see if the information would hurt Wu if their campaign said nothing. When the numbers didn't budge, the Ameri campaign decided to try to use the information against Wu, knowing she would definitely lose without it but might have a chance with it.
In the end, 'the race moved not a whit," Hibbitts said.
Before closing for the evening, Hibbitts suggested a few names that could appear in the 2008 race. For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards (although if he loses his own state by 13 points it "doesn't smell good"), Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana. Republicans have Rudy Giuliani, Bill Frist, New York Gov. George Pataki and Sen. John McCain.
He said that if the president can find a way out of Iraq and if the economy is OK, the Republicans have good chance of hanging on to the White House. But he said Jeb Bush is an unlikely successor.
"I think the country will have had a bellyful of Bushes," he said.