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LA GOP does better by keeping primaries closed

While an interesting proposal that Louisiana Republicans should allow anyone not affiliated with another party to vote in its primary elections for federal office, from the party’s perspective it is better to leave the rules allowing only registered Republicans to vote.

Louisiana law allows parties the option of opening up their primaries for federal office to no-party (independent) registrants. When the law first went onto the books over a year ago, the GOP announced Republicans only could participate, while Democrats said independents could participate with their partisans in their primaries. This means, as of now, the only such primary elections in which independents may participate are the Democrats.

A GOP official has proposed allowing in independents. “You are ignoring a large group of conservative independents,” State Central Committee member Mike Bayham argued. “They are part of the party's voter base. We need to do everything we can to keep them.”

But the facts nor reasoning here are quite accurate. First, voting participation statistics show independents are the least likely to vote. Among whites, there was an 18 point gap in turnout for the 2008 presidential elections Republican to independent (at 57 percent). And from what we know about the nature of ideological identification and participation in politics, those who are more ideological on both ends of the spectrum, including conservatives who would be expected to vote Republican and therefore in that primary, are more likely to vote. So it’s debatable that there are a significant number of active conservatives among independents, or else there would be a higher rate of voting.

Let’s hypothesize, however, that there is a core group of some significant size that offsets what therefore must be truly lackadaisical interest among the rest. (After all, widely syndicated radio talk show host Moon Griffon publicly announced his switch from Republican to no party as a sign of disgust at too many elected Republicans doing too many non-conservative things too often.) The theory would be that these voters would be shut out of a process that, with their inclusion, could produce more conservative candidates for the party. In Louisiana for the majority of districts and statewide, that means more electable candidates since these nominees will activate conservatives to vote and there are many more of them than liberals.

However, that view ignores that more moderate independents – and research shows the majority of independents identify as moderates – also could influence nominations. Even if the conservatives would participate at higher rates, the sheer amount of moderates favoring them might mean introducing more of them into the primary process, decreasing the chances of nominating conservatives that can win.

Besides the empirical evidence, there is a philosophical objection as well. By allowing independents to participate, the organization retards its party-building efforts. Research shows that voting for a party’s candidate is habit-forming stemming principally from efforts to increase adoption of a party label. The most powerful way to encourage adoption of a label is to provide a reward by identifying and/or a penalty for failure to do so. Allowing only party members to participate in primaries accomplishes precisely this. Why should anybody who already can participate as an independent go to the effort to change their registration to GOP? They would get all the benefits of the label already. Changing usually occurs only when a person feels sufficiently moved, but for some the prodding needs to be sterner, i.e. not allowing to participate those feeling closer affinity to the GOP unless they switch. Simply, the more people are encouraged (by avoiding the penalty of nonparticipation) to join the party, the more reliably they’ll vote for the party.

(This benefit extends beyond federal contests. It also would spill over into state and local elections where there are blanket primaries so while nomination is irrelevant, increased recruitment into the Republican label also would like create more voters for GOP state and local candidates.)

In addition, keeping the current rule is akin to having a strong hand in poker and raising the stakes. Understand the reason why Louisiana Democrats allow independents to participate is because they are operating from a position of weakness. Research shows independence is a label often adopted by voters making a transition from one party to another. In Louisiana, those going from Democrat to Republican far outnumber the reverse. Democrats want to hang onto those attitudinally moving away from them by allowing them the privilege of not being Democrats yet permitting them to participate in the most important decision a party can make, who its candidates are to be. It is scared of losing them, reconciling itself to letting unreliable voters for it decide its nominations. Republicans don’t have to settle for that; they can swing for the fences with conversion of independents into Republicans by withholding the privilege of selecting candidates to those not willing to adopt their label.

In fact, there is only one practical reason, given the objective conditions of the state parties, for this change that could benefit the GOP: it might slice some independents out of the Democrats’ primaries which could cause them to select a more liberal nominee, and thus one usually easier to defeat. Yet given the other philosophical and practical reasons above, on balance the party’s electoral chances probably are harmed by this change. If Republicans want to continue to have the success they enjoyed in Louisiana federal elections in 2008, keeping their primaries closed probably does better at achieving this.


Anonymous said...

The problem for both Repubs and Dems is that they cater to the extreme fringes of their party activists. Allowing the middle of the road independants to vote in their primaries might produce a more electable candidate for the general election.

Anonymous said...

But how would that explain 2008? The Republican Party in Louisiana was quite successful in national elections when conservative candidates ran as conservatives "cater[ing] to the extreme fringes of their party activists]," with the notable exception of failing to defeat Landrieu when her opponent lacked a history of conservative "extrem[ism]." The national republican party ran a candidate who notoriously was middle of the road (McCain Feingold, McCain Kennedy, etc.) and partnered with Democrats on major legislation. Combine that with an electorate who thinks it's more socially acceptable to vote against someone on the basis of age than the basis of color, with a Republican candidate who took nearly every opportunity (besides about half an hour out of a single debate) to describe how much like his opponent he is, and the verdict would appear to be a failure of strategy.

The Democrats never bothered to attack McCain, he was never a threat to them. They poured animosity and rage on Palin and her daughter because she is a threat to them, she stood up for the party activists and actually believed it mattered whether somebody voted Republican instead of voting Democrat. The lesson here is to return the favor they bestowed unto Bush for eight years, to polarize the opponent, which should be easy considering Obama is in fact a radical pro-abortionist doing everything possible to bring socialist health care and advance the welfare state, to advance the rights of the state at the expense of individual liberty, except in cases of terrorists.

Republicans took the wrong tack, and if this is what you're talking about you may be right, in circulating emails calling Obama the anti-Christ, but I doubt there were many principled people who voted against McCain because they didn't want to be like those wacky evangelists, a principled person wouldn't let that matter one way or the other. We lost, if you look at the Zogby poll, to Obama supporters who for the most part didn't even know who was running Congress, but who almost universally knew about Palin's daughter, because the media is in the hands of ultra leftists in Hollywood. The problem isn't being conservative, it's finding ways to teach people the difference it makes, why it matters that they're not middle of the road, or to the left of the road, and we may see Palin communicate that difference in a couple of years.

Anonymous said...

Age wasn't McCain's problem, Bush was. He certainly appeared at one time to be more midle of the road and electable, but he supported the idiotic Iraq policy, and did not distance himself from Bush enough. Everyone was afraid of 4 more years of Bush, hence the moniker "McSame". His selection of Palin was simply evidence of his kowtowing to the uberconservatives, which he did not have to do. Who else were they going to vote for? Palin is very similar to Bush, dumb and not interested in learning, and she would be used just like Bush, by the corporate lobbying interests, to drive the country further in the hole. If you think she is the future of the party, look for another 4 years of Democrat control of the White House.