Posted by AzBlueMeanie:
Last week I posted about the Open Elections/Open Government Act initiative co-chaired by former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson and Tucson attorney Si Schorr. The latest Goo-Goos gone bad: The top two primary. As I said at the time:
The latest entry in Goo-Goos gone bad comes from the "left." It is an initiative called the Open Elections/Open Government Act which would institute a "top two primary" in Arizona. Media villagers tend to love this kind of thing, and several have already written favorable opinions. They are wrong, per usual.
Sure enough, The Arizona Republic dedicated its Sunday editorial pages to a discussion by Linda Valdez in favor of this ill-conceived "top two primary." The Arizona Republic will be a proponent of this "Goo-Goos gone bad" initiative.
The introductory editorial was Arizona 2012: Making government work by Linda Valdez. Ms. Valdez notes:
Voter-registration numbers show a mighty force pushing at the pillars of our political system. In Arizona and across the nation, more and more people are responding to a choice between Republicans and Democrats by saying "none of the above."
In itself, that's not a problem -- except maybe for the political parties. But Arizonans who made "no party preference" the fastest-growing voter-registration category are voting at lower rates.
Here is part of the problem as I see it. Media villagers tend to register as "independent" or "no party preference" either because they are required to by their employer or to avoid the appearance of political bias -- even though their political bias is obvious to any careful reader. This leads many media villagers to praise independent voters and put them up on a pedestal to be exalted as the ideal voter -- which itself reflects the political bias of the media villager who is registered as an independent.
The fact is that voters who register as "independent" or "no party preference" tend to be low information voters who are politically disengaged and who do not participate in our democratic electoral process. They do not vote in primary elections. (There are, of course, the rare exceptions to this general rule). These are NOT traits to be exalted nor praised as ideal by the media.
The "top two primary" which purports to appeal to Independent voters to encourage them to vote in primaries is misguided. Independent voters, if they vote at all, vote in general elections in November, and that is when Independent voters want to have a choice of candidates. That behavior has been consistent for many years and is not going to change. The "top two primary" actually reduces the number of choices available to Independent voters on the general election ballot in November, which will only depress independent voter turnout in the general election even more.
Ms. Valdez correctly notes what I have been telling you for years, Many independents are 'closet partisans':
"A large percent of these people are closet partisans," said Vincent Hutchings, professor of political science at the University of Michigan. He works with American National Election Studies, which has been surveying the electorate in pre- and post-election interviews since 1948.
"They are not changing the way they view the world by registering independent," he said. "I would discourage you from thinking they are abandoning the parties."
Hutchings said research suggests that only about one-third of people who identify themselves as independent are what he called "true independents." The rest are split evenly between those who lean Republican or Democrat.
"Those who talk about appealing to the moderate independent voter are kidding themselves," he said. "Mostly, independents follow the front-runner."
More importantly, Ms. Valdez concedes this critical point: "Most people who register without a party affiliation don't vote in either the primary or the general election. In a government 'of the people' that's a problem." Also in the "more on this topic" comment, "under a top-two system, the voices of third-party candidates might not be heard in political campaigns. Currently, they have to get only a relatively few signatures and win their own primary to make it on the general- election ballot and gain a platform from which to join the debate over public- policy issues. Judging from past election results, they would be unlikely to emerge from an open primary in one of those top two spots." So how is this beneficial to anyone?
Moreover, as The New Republic reported in August, 2011:
[W]e must visit one of the most robust but amazingly underappreciated findings in American political science: independents are not independent. That is, the overwhelming majority of Americans who say there are “independent” lean toward one party or the other. Call them IINOs (Independents In Name Only). IINOs who say they lean toward the Republicans think and vote just like regular Republicans. IINOs who say they lean toward the Democrats think and vote just like regular Democrats.
Right now, according to Pew data, IINOs are 68 percent of independents, split 36/32 between Republican-leaners and Democratic–leaners, respectively. That leaves less than a third of independents who might really qualify as independent. This figure, in turn, translates into just 13 to 14 percent of adults, and inevitably a lower percentage of actual voters, since pure independents have notoriously low turnout. In 2008, according to the University of Michigan National Election Study, pure independents were only 7 percent of voters.
In other words, the "independent" swing voter that the media villagers obsess over and waste tons of ink and paper and pixels writing about DO NOT decide elections. Elections are decided by -- surprise! -- partisan party voters and party "leaners" (the IINOs). Elections are decided by which party can turn out its base voters and "leaners," not by appealing to "independent" swing voters. This is a media-created myth.
Ms. Valdez also correctly notes that More independents means less voting. Well, duh! And again, how is this beneficial to anyone?
I would argue that people should be discouraged from registering as an Independent or "no party preference." If people are unhappy about the way the political parties operate, they have to stop being passive bystanders and become proactive -- actively participate in your democracy! Run for precinct committee person and district officers and state committee positions in the party of your choice. You can change the way political parties operate from within. But it requires you to get off your ass and to do the hard work! Stop your whining!
Ms. Valdez explains what she sees as the pros and cons of the "top two primary" in How a top-2 vote system can alter an election's dynamics:
Supporters say a top-two primary would change the nature of political discourse and give people more real choices in the general election.
Yet the legal challenges in other states remain unresolved, and there is no solid evidence that the new system would make a significant difference.
A new statewide poll from the Morrison Institute for Public Policy indicates 58 percent support for a nonpartisan primary. Not surprisingly, support was strongest from independents at 71 percent. Sixty-one percent of Republicans and 59 percent of Democrats supported the change.
A majority of Americans told pollsters they supported sacrificing their Fourth Amendment Rights after 9/11, a really stupid idea. People say stupid things, what does polling data prove?
Under the Open Elections/Open Government system, candidates could list their party affiliation on the ballot, something that has led to legal challenges to Washington's top-two primary.
If candidates don't identify with parties, the nonpartisan system could result in money playing a larger role in campaigns, said Tom Volgy, professor in the department of government and public policy at the University of Arizona and former mayor of Tucson. That's because party labels mean something. Without those labels, candidates have to work harder to let voters know where they stand, he said.
Matt Welch, editor of the libertarian Reason magazine, said in an e-mail that nonpartisan primaries give more advantages to the "deep-pocketed parties and major-party pols." He sees "some silver-bullet naivete going on here, a regular feature in Arizona/California politics," where campaign-finance reform and independent redistricting were once seen as the fix-alls. (Goo-Goos gone bad).
Where Ms. Valdez veers off track is her statement "With a top-two system, one party could wind up with both spots. Ironically, that could result in more competitive general-election races." No, it would not. It would depress voter turnout in the general election in November.
In a contest between two Republicans, the example given by Ms. Valdez, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians and many Independents would be inclined to leave the ballot blank for that race, an "under vote," because they have been denied the option of any candidate for whom they can vote.
In any event, "The top-two systems in both Washington and California face challenges before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals." Oral arguments were heard before the 9th Circuit on Tuesday (Today). Just what Arizona needs, yet another misguided law that winds up in court costing taxpayers money for attorneys fees and costs.
Finally, Ms. Valdez editorializes in favor of the "top two primary." In age of choice, today's voters expect more:
Baby Boomers grew up in a three-network world, their kids had multiple choices, their grandkids have seemingly infinite options. Today, choices rule. No matter your age.
So, maybe it should not be a surprise that more people are registering to vote without a party affiliation. Arizona law allows them to vote in partisan primaries -- even though the vast majority of them don't. But the system allows them to opt out of a party label and opt back in on primary-election day. Calling oneself an independent has an appeal in this land that lionizes rugged individualism.
Yet this unaffiliated group, which pollsters try to define and candidates need to attract, does fit into a pattern of discontent that is reflected in low voter turnout, the emergence of the "tea party" and Occupy Wall Street and the dismal approval ratings for the president and Congress.
The effort of some Arizonans to create a more inclusive primary system also reflects the desire to improve a political climate that has delivered more gridlock and rhetoric than solutions.
Some might see these efforts -- and McCain's pronouncement -- as symptoms of a sick system.
These ideas were enabled by a system that is malleable enough to be used by citizens to reshape the political world.
That's a sign of robust good health.
Arizona's changing electorate represents a challenge. But not because it is changing. The challenge lies in the fact that those who register without party affiliation are not voting.
Ms. Valdez's "silver-bullet naivete" in support of the "top two primary" is not the answer, and would only make the problem worse -- another Goo-Goo gone bad initiative.
To my surprise, über-conservative columnist Robert Robb and I agree (albeit for different reasons) in an opinion he wrote on December 2. Open primary's flaw: It allows party labels:
Under the top-two system, all candidates run against all other candidates in the primary election, irrespective of party. The two top vote-getters in the primary then run off against each other in the general.
But the initiative being circulated in Arizona doesn't actually provide for nonpartisan elections. Candidates can still have their party preference printed on the ballot. In fact, candidates can invent their own parties. Under the initiative being circulated in Arizona, you could register and run as the Free Beer Party candidate if you wanted.
Under the top-two system, participation by independents in primaries will undoubtedly go up, but by how much is speculative. Chances are primary participation by independents will continue to lag considerably behind that of registered Republicans and Democrats.
* * *
Under the top-two system, the parties would still be scheming to get their candidates elected. Moreover, the places where a moderate Republican has the best chance to defeat a conservative one is precisely those places where Democrats think they might be able to steal a seat. ["Steal," Robb, really? As if Republicans have a divine right to the seat.]
* * *
Assuming that party identification continues to be a predictor of voting behavior, the drafters of Arizona's initiative have undermined their objective of making it easier for more moderate and less partisan candidates to get elected by permitting party labels on the ballot.
This is just the latest effort by those dissatisfied with the conservatism of the Arizona Legislature to change election results by changing election rules. . . All failed. . .
The top-two primary system might have a larger effect than previous efforts, but I suspect not by much.
Let's just put this misguided initiative to rest. Do not sign the petitions, and if it somehow makes it onto the 2012 ballot, do not vote for it.