Steve Chapman

The evidence of a sharply ideological, polarized citizenry comes mostly from primary elections that are anything but representative. Santorum won the Minnesota caucuses by persuading less than 1 percent of registered voters. When Gingrich won the South Carolina primary, he got less than 10 percent of those registered to vote.

Most Americans don't take part in primary elections. The ones who do tend to have an unusual if not unhealthy degree of interest in politics and abnormally strong opinions.

The defeat of Lugar and same-sex unions this week gives a misleading impression. Indiana tea partiers, who helped Mourdock to victory in the primary, may cost the GOP a Senate seat: Democratic nominee Joe Donnelly, who was trailing Lugar by 21 points in the polls, has been running even against Mourdock.

North Carolinians are not all that unsympathetic to gay couples. A survey by Public Policy Polling found that 53 percent favor granting them access to either marriage or civil unions. But most voters, it found, didn't realize the "marriage amendment" forbids both.

A lot of people who call themselves conservative should call themselves confused. Political scientists Christopher Ellis of Bucknell University and James Stimson of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill have determined that only one out of every five professed conservatives actually favors conservative policies on both moral and social welfare issues.

As for the tea party, a New York Times/CBS poll last year found it to be the most disliked of 23 groups respondents were asked about -- less popular than Muslims or atheists. The one-time tea party darling, Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, now has an ad publicizing his work with Obama.

The middle of the political road remains important, even if it doesn't get much attention. It brings to mind what Yogi Berra said about one restaurant: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

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Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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