Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Party registration is irrelevant in Presidential elections!

Posted by sanityinjection on July 17, 2008

I am so sick of hearing political columnists, who think they are a lot smarter than they are, telling us over and over again that Barack Obama is going to win the 2008 election because of the continuing pattern of voters registering as Democrats and not Republicans. There are so many things wrong with this oft-repeated assumption that I hardly know where to begin.

Let us acknowledge the truth of the statistic: It is indeed the case that the percentage of registered Democrats is increasing while the percentage of registered Republicans is decreasing. It’s been true for a number of years now. And yes, there is a connection between that fact and the successes that Democrats have had in Congressional and Senate elections over the past 8 years.

However, to jump from that to the Presidential election is totally unwarranted. First of all, let us recall that the majority of American voters are independents, and that is not in danger of changing any time soon. In every Presidential race since 1984, it’s been these independent voters – not registered Democrats or Republicans – that have determined who wins the Presidency. Overall voter registration always goes up in a  Presidential election year, as hundreds of thousands of people who normally don’t vote will make an exception for the biggest race of all. And most of those people register as independents.

Next, let’s note that the gains in Democratic registration and the election successes the party has had are all completely typical for the “out” party during an 8-year Presidency. Democrats had similar gains in the 1980s under Reagan, while Republicans enjoyed successes (including capturing Congress for the first time in decades) under Bill Clinton. Thus, they do not represent some sort of permanent, seismic shift in the American electorate, as several wide-eyed idiot columnists would have us believe.

Finally, the idea that party registration determines one’s vote is at its weakest in Presidential elections. There is more crossover voting the higher you go on the scale from local to federal elections, and the most of all occurs in the Presidential race. There are two reasons for this. One is that the Presidential candidates get so much media exposure that voters tend to judge them as individuals rather than as standard-bearers for a political party. The second is that the importance of the position of President of the United States encourages even those who typically vote a straight party line to ponder their vote more carefully.  The LBJ landslide of 1964 and the Reagan landslide of 1984 were accomplished with huge numbers of voters registered to the other party crossing over to vote for the incumbent President. While no one expects such a landslide this year, the point remains that the percentage of voters registered to a particular party that ultimately votes for that party’s candidate for President varies greatly from one election to the next.

As such, if you hear a pundit or read a columnist talking about how the Democrats’ advantage in voter registration means that Obama is going to win, you can safely mark them down as an ignoramus and move on to the next talking head.

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