Posted by AzBlueMeanie:
Our sad small town newspaper the Arizona Daily Star publishes an unattributed opinion from the defunct former Tucson Citizen (now just a blog site) every Monday. I am informed that these unattributed opinions are by the Tucson Citizen managing editor, Mark Evans.
Today's opinion, for which there does not appear to be any link either at the Arizona Daily Star or Tucson Citizen [update: http://tucsoncitizen.com/mark-evans/archives/741/], is entitled "Voters should OK Prop. 121 to take power from parties." Normally I would not respond to anything on the Tucson Citizen blog because, really, does anyone read it? Because this opinion appeared in our sad small town newspaper the Arizona Daily Star, I will respond.
The opinion is in favor of the Open Elections/Open Government initiative (Prop. 121). As I have warned you before, media villagers tend to love this kind of thing, and several have already written favorable opinions (in particular the opinion writers of The Arizona Republic). Both the Tucson Citizen and The Arizona Republic are Gannett Co. Inc. publications.
The critical points from this opinion are:
"A third of state voters are independents and mostly moderates. Thus what's left of the Republican and Democratic parties have become populated with zealous ideologues who relish banishing moderates from their parties almost as much as they enjoy beating the other party in elections."
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"The intent of the law is to get more independents to vote in primaries." Yet Mr. Evans concedes, "This process is used in other states, and primary eelctions still have low turnouts."
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"The belief is that by letting more independents into the process, candidates will have to moderate their views rather than have hardcore conservative or über liberal candidates rely on only like-minded party faithful turning out for the primary, setting up a general election of a far-right candidate versus a far-left candidate and leaving moderates not much of a choice."
As a political scientist, I have to assign Mr. Evans a failing grade of "F" in PoliSci 101.
The first red flag of noncritical thinking in this opinion is the false equivalency framing: Republicans are far-right and Democrats are far-left. Mr. Evans is correct that the Republican Party has moved far to the right in recent years, but the Democratic Party is actually a centrist party, its positions are closely aligned with the majority of public opinion in almost all issue polling. I strongly recommend that Mr. Evans reread the opinion by the high priests of "centrism," political scientists Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein, Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem. - The Washington Post, and pick up a copy of their new book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.”
The second red flag of noncritical thinking in this opinion is the claim, entirely unsupported by decades worth of political science research, that independents are moderates. I have previously addressed this myth in The mythical 'independent' voter:
The media villagers regularly portray our political system as "broken," blaming the two major political parties. The rise in "no party preference" voters, the media villagers tell us, is evidence that our political system is broken.
The media villagers -- most of whom register as independent/no party preference to maintain the illusion that they have no political bias -- put "independent" voters up on a pedestal and extoll the virtues of independent voters as being the ideal voter.
This is just the media villagers expressing their own air of superiority and disdain for us mere mortals.
An "independent" voter simply indicates "no party preference" checked on the voter registration form. This does not magically transform one into an independent thinker who carefully weighs the candidates' positions and makes a virtuous choice of the best candidate. This media conception of the independent voter is a myth, like unicorns.
The average voter spends less than five minutes deciding for whom to vote. This is what political scientists refer to as "low information voters." This voter is making a decision based upon preconceived political biases and an emotional response to negative political advertising, i.e., their "gut feeling."
This is not the kind of voter who should be put up on a pedestal and extolled as being the ideal voter. If our political system is "broken," it is because of declining civic participation in our political process. The politically disengaged are the problem, not the solution.
As I have posted previously, independent voters are not "independent," but rather are "leaners." There is only a very small percentage of the electorate who are true "swing" voters.
Larry Sabato writing at POLITICO today reaffirms this point:
While it is fashionable for voters to call themselves “independent” - both in how they respond to surveys or in their voter registration - polling data tell us that most people who claim to be independent really are not. A Gallup survey earlier this year noted that 40% of those polled identified as independents, but after “leaners” toward one party or the other were weeded out, the percentage of real independents was only about 10%. That squares with a more recent report from Ipsos’ Clifford Young, who pegged independents as 11% of the likely voters in the upcoming election. Political science research suggests that the real proportion of independents in the November electorate will be even smaller, perhaps 5% to7%.
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[T]he “swingy” part of the electorate is small, only a relative handful of every 100 voters. Most of the change from one quadrennium to another comes from variable turnout in the two partisan camps. Therefore, the key question this November will be less the destination of the hard-core independents than the relative enthusiasm of Democrats versus Republicans.
The third red flag of noncritical thinking in this opinion is the concession that there is no empirical data to support the claim of the backers of this initiative that it increases voter turnout in primary elections, and the magical belief (like in unicorns!) that this will moderate the views of candidates, for which there is also no empirical data to support the claim of the backers of this initiative. I have previously addressed this at length. See Arizona Supreme Court puts the 'Top Two Primary' initiative on the ballot - now defeat this terrible idea.
This magical belief is reflected in the final red flag of noncritical thinking in Mr. Evans' reason for voting for Prop. 121:
Whether Prop. 121 would work as intended is unknown . . . But that's not why voters should vote for it. They should vote for it because it strips the political parties of power and puts it back in the hands of the voters.
Like the "low information voter," this is an appeal to making an uninformed decision based upon preconceived political biases and an emotional response "from the gut." It is not based upon empirical evidence or reality. This is how bad ideas become bad law, which always comes with unintended consequences. This is simply irresponsible.