What is the State of the Center?
While fringes of both parties draw the most attention, the plurality of the electorate resides in the middle, and they decide most elections. We created what will be an annual State of the Center poll to go in depth to explore the mindset of moderates, the most critical of all voting blocs.
Some accuse moderates of difference-splitting. We found that, on the contrary, moderates aren't mushy; they're multifaceted. They:
- Wrestle with and often reject the either/or ideological choices so prevalent in politics today;
- Believe both sides have a piece of the truth, which colors their views on government, politics and specific policy issues;
- Refuse to be pigeonholed in an ideological box. Instead, they adopt informed — if often conflicted — views on politics and pressing debates, such as being for both fossil fuels and renewable energy, privacy protections and stronger anti-terror efforts, and more personal responsibility on some issues while also wanting more government restrictions on others (e.g. guns).
Importantly, moderates remain engaged in politics, despite their deep concern about the divisiveness in Washington. Our advice to both parties: Be wary. Refusing to understand the complexities that underlie the opinions of moderate voters, or assuming that agreement on one piece means a wholesale acceptance of a partisan worldview, could make their appeals fall on deaf ears with this crucial segment of the electorate.
Ensuring Middle-Class Success
To help policymakers understand the stresses facing the middle class, we created the NEXT initiative to surface issues and recommend solutions to this major economic challenge.
Eighty-five percent of the middle class say their standard of living is harder to maintain that it was a decade ago. The simple fact is that, increasingly, a middle-class job no longer supports a middle-class life. This problem lies at the heart of the promise of the American Dream, and it has fostered a deep sense of insecurity and uncertainty for middle class Americans.
In our work so far, we've focused on the fact that middle-class incomes have not kept pace with four big ticket items we contend are the price of admission into the middle class: college for kids, a home, health care coverage, and savings for retirement.
Based on our analysis of economic trends and public opinion data, we believe the middle class sees a role for both the private sector and government in solving these problems. A systematic focus on a new middle class compact will harness the best and boldest ideas to significantly expand the number of middle class jobs and bolster U.S. growth, improve the skills of those who seek these jobs, and aggressively work to lower the cost of the American Dream.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama tapped Vice President Biden “to lead an across-the-board reform of America's training programs" to ensure Americans have the right skills for today's job market. In support of the White House effort, we spent four months working to uncover the secret sauce that makes workforce programs go from good to great. We examined hundreds of programs as we searched for unique training innovations with external validation to support their efforts.
Based on this research, we identified seven key traits of successful workforce training programs in a report that we shared at an event with the Vice President and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. As policymakers work to remake the federal workforce system, it is imperative that grant programs and other federal support incent and reward these characteristics.
Teaching: The Next Generation
The U.S. needs to add 3 million teachers over the next decade. This new corps of teachers will serve as the single biggest in-school determinant of whether or not our students are college- and workforce-ready for decades to come. But if past is prologue, most of the 3 million will come from the bottom one-third of their graduating class, because of dismal perceptions about the teaching profession.
Millennials don't view teaching as a viable career option. In a Third Way poll of high-achieving undergraduate students, we found that not only do Millennials believe that the profession is less prestigious than it was a few years ago, but they say it just doesn't have the elements they most value in a career.
We issued a report that outlined the obstacles to attracting the best and the brightest to become teachers, and recommend five big policy shifts to modernize the profession:
- Creating a national standard for teaching practice;
- Refusing to subsidize teacher prep programs whose graduates don't make the grade;
- Providing immediate student loan relief available to teachers;
- Paying and promoting them like professionals; and
- Transitioning them to a modern, portable retirement system.
What are the Best Options for a Responsible Climate Policy?
In just a few short years, the climate and energy debate was turned on its head. Cap and trade was dead; a natural gas boom converted us from an importer to an exporter; coal suffered; nuclear stagnated; and renewables became mainstream. What's a policymaker to do?
We answered by giving the PowerBook, a menu of more than 100 policy options to modernize energy infrastructure, spur innovation and move toward a low-carbon future. It wasn't a laundry list, but a menu with data on policy's potential impact on energy supplies, the environment and the federal budget — allowing lawmakers to compare and contrast choices.
In less than two years, half of the Power Book's proposals have become legislation, a few have become law, and several are being implemented by the President using executive order.