"There’s an old saying that politics in America is played between the 40-yard lines,” wrote Fred Barnes (see 1988 citation below). “What this means, for those unfamiliar with American football, is that we’re a centrist country, never straying very far to the Left or the Right in elections or national policies.”
The football analogy probably comes from the book The Real Majority (1970), by Ben Wattenberg and Richard M. Scammon. Football played between the 40-yard lines, however, implies gridlock with neither team scoring.
Wikipedia: The Real Majority
The Real Majority: An Extraordinary Examination of the American Electorate was a 1970 bestselling analysis of United States politics by Ben Wattenberg and Richard M. Scammon. The book analyzed electoral data, especially from the 1968 presidential election, to argue that the American electorate was centrist, and that parties or candidates, to be viable, must appeal to the “real majority” of the electorate at the center.
The book was written by Ben Wattenberg and Richard M. Scammon, who were both moderate Democrats at that time. Wattenberg is now a prominent figure in the neo-conservative movement, although at the time of the book’s publication he was a member of Social Democrats USA.
The authors argued that while the Democratic Party “owned” “the Economic Issue” (a broad category encompassing such issues as Social Security and employment), the Republicans likewise “owned” “the Social Issue” (crime, drugs, and morality). They argued that whichever party could exploit their own strengths, and neutralize their opponent’s, would prevail.
OCLC WorldCat record
The real majority [by] Richard M. Scammon and Ben J. Wattenberg.
Author: Richard M Scammon; Ben J joint author Wattenberg
Publisher: New York, Coward-McCann [ 1970]
Edition/Format: Book : English
Google News Archive
29 August 1984, Milwaukee (WI) Journal, “Both parties tug at center” by Arnold Sawislak, pt. 1, pg. 15, col. 5:
IN THEIR BOOK “The Real Majority,” Richard Scammon and Ben Wattenberg drew a picture of American politics as a struggle for control of the ideological center of the American electorate.
Using a football analogy, they said the center of the political spectrum could be as narrow as the space between the 40-yard lines or as wide as the area between the 10-yard lines.
12 May 1985, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Senator Finally Gets Attention” by Nancy Skelton, pt. 1, pg. A1:
“He plays between the 40-yard lines,” said Sen. David L. Boren (D-Okla.), “and basically it’s the people who play between the 40-yard lines who wind up making the decisions around here.”
Google News Archive
11 August 1988, Hendersonville (NC) Times-News, “Go marching in” by William Safire, pg. 4, col. 5:
If this game is played between the 40-yard lines, the Republicans will never bridge the negatives chasm; if it is played on the right side of the field, Bush will win.
The Best of Planning:
Two decades of articles from the magazine of the American Planning Association
Chicago, IL: Planners Press
If mainstream American politics is a game played between the 40-yard lines, most planners are near the middle, slightly left of center.
2 February 1990, Los Angeles (CA) Times, ‘Column One” by Anthony Day, pg. A1:
“Most ideas in Washington are played between the 40-yard lines,” he said.
Google News Archive
21 November 1991, Kingman (AZ) Daily Miner, “Economy threatens political health” by Jeff Greenfield, pg. 4, col. 3:
Our system it has been said, forces politics to be played between the 40-yard lines.
Eastern and Western perceptions of the future
By Klaus Gottstein and Jörn Behrmann
Frankfurt am Main: Campus-Verl.
(European colleagues are cautioned to remember that the American political spectrum lacks true extremes—the game is played between the 40-yard lines.)
Los Angeles (CA) Times
Gentlemen, Crank Up Your Egos
The Run For The Presidency Is Off To A Fast Start. How Furious Will It Be? Can Clinton Win? Can The Gop Emerge Unscathed From The Infighting? And What Does It Mean For America?
April 02, 1995| David Lauter
Politics, as the cliche goes, becomes a game played between the 40-yard lines.
March 5, 2008 at 10:03:04
The Magic Pendulum Theory
Diary Entry by Joel Thorson
American politics are always played between the 40-yard lines.
Policy lurches into Left field
November 06, 2008 12:00AM
THERE’S an old saying that politics in America is played between the 40-yard lines. What this means, for those unfamiliar with American football, is that we’re a centrist country, never straying very far to the Left or the Right in elections or national policies. This has been true for decades. It probably won’t be after yesterday’s election.
Real Clear Politics
April 28th, 2009
Arlen Specter To Switch Parties
Posted by Sean Trende
American politics are played between the 40-yard lines. But when a substantial portion of the party demands that their players occupy territory somewhere around the 10-yard line—even in states that are positioned more around the opposing 40, how does that party ever claim a majority? So long as a substantial number of Republicans insist on positioning themselves between their own goal line and 40, they can’t expect much other than Democratic supermajorities in both houses.
Crooks & Liars - Video Cafe
April 13, 2010 10:00 PM
Judd Gregg Calls the Administration He Almost Worked for Governing From the 15 or 20 Yard Line
KING: That far left? You came pretty close to joining this --
GREGG: Yes, I did and that was my mistake. But the—all American politics is historically played between the 40 yard lines. But this administration came in with what was essentially super majorities in the House and Senate and they decided to govern like a parliamentary system and they went down to the 20 yard line or the 15 yard line on the left and they basically moved very aggressively out on an agenda --
National Post (Canada)
David Frum’s place on the American right
National Post · Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010
Re: Strife On The Right; Conservatives Turn On David Frum, Kevin Libin, Sept. 27.
David Frum’s argument for “consensus among elites” would have more credence if, to borrow a phrase, American politics remained a game played between the 40 yard lines.
Washington (DC) Post
A return to the norm
By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, November 5, 2010
The lesson of Tuesday is that the American game is played between the 40-yard lines. So long as Democrats don’t repeat Obama’s drive for the red zone, Democrats will cyclically prevail, just as Republicans do.
New York City • Government/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Friday, November 05, 2010 • Permalink