Media Villagers believe in unicorns: the ‘independent’ voter panacea


Here we go again. The opinion writers at The Arizona Republic are being disingenuous with their call to action for “Independent” voters to participate in the party primaries this summer. Hey, independents, now is your time.

I agree that this would be a good thing in general. As an American citizen, the minimum required obligation you owe for the privilege of your citizenship is to vote.

Screenshot-11The unexpressed real reason in this editorial opinion is that the GOP establishment at The Arizona Republic is tired of the Neo-Confederate Birthers-Birchers-Secessionists and tinfoil hat crazies who dominate the modern GOP, and make Arizona the butt of jokes of late night comedians. The GOP establishment needs “Independents” to vote in the GOP primary to “moderate” the GOP, so the media villagers’ theory goes.

But the media villagers’ theory is complete bunk. It has been debunked by political science. Sorry media villagers, ‘independents’ are not nonpartisan or centrists:

Over the years I have posted about political science studies which demonstrate that “independent” voters are actually partisan “leaners.”

Data from the American National Election Study analyzed by political science professor Alan I. Abramowitz of Emory University showed that in 2008, independents made up 40 percent of eligible voters, but only 33 percent of those who actually voted. Only 7 percent of the total voted as true independents with no party preference. The other indies were clearly “leaners” for one party or the other. ‘Swing’ voters remain partisan – Chicago Tribune.

Screenshot-14Don’t bother telling the media villagers this. They are committed to their “independent voters are nonpartisan” and “centrists” (or “moderates”) meme, the facts be damned.

* * *

John Sides at the Washington Monthly’s Ten Miles Square tries, once again, to correct this media disinformation. Independents Are Mostly Partisans, Chapter Gazillion:

Here are a couple graphs for the next time you hear that the “independents are the largest group of American voters” and some species of “to appeal to this vast number of independents you have to take moderate positions.”  Graphs are courtesy of the new Pew Center report (p.28 and 98 of the pdf):

First, most independents lean toward a party:


You can see that only 12% of respondents did not identify with or lean toward a party in the most recent survey.

Second, independents who lean toward a party have not differed much from partisans on key political values:


The Pew Research Center study is actually titled “Partisan Polarization Surges in Bush, Obama Years.” Media villagers should maybe, you know, actually read the report.

I can tell you from personal experience from working voter registration and candidate booths this year that an unusually large number of  “No Party Preference” (NOP) voters told me “I didn’t know I could vote in the primary election.” This is partly the fault of low information voters, but it is also the fault of our Secretary of State and County election directors not doing enough public service announcements to educate NOP voters of their right to vote in party primary elections.

The larger point is that  NOP voters, wrongly identified as “Independent” voters by the media villagers, are actually “Leaners” who will choose the party ballot in the primary election for the party with which they identify (lean).

So the excuse that “I have to choose one party’s ballot; I’d rather pick and choose from all of the candidates” does not wash. This represents a tiny number of NOP voters who would actually take the time to vote in a primary election. (Secretary of State Ken “Birther”Bennett estimates that fewer than 10 percent of “independents” will bother to show up for the late-August primary election.  Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne put the “independent” turnout in 2012 at just 7 percent.)

The Republic likes to use this argument to advocate for the “top two” or “jungle primary” that voters rejected overwhelmingly in 2012 (from today’s editorial):

A truly open primary is a sensible goal. But it’s not the law, and it’s unlikely to become the law as long as party partisans are the only ones voting in primaries. Why would their candidates, once elected, want to open the door to a more open primary? The only way to bring this change is for independents to flex some muscle.

This disingenuous argument disregards the fact that the “top two” primary was a  ballot measure in 2012, Prop. 121, and the voters — not partisan legislators — rejected it overwhelmingly. The “top two” primary advocates at The Republic won’t accept that voters rejected their pet project.

Screenshot from 2014-03-18 12:40:34The Republic’s lead cheerleader for the “top two” or “jungle primary” is Laurie Roberts, who was at it again in this recent opinion. Want to change the Arizona Legislature? It begins now…:

I’ve heard every sort of reason why Arizona’s 1.1 million independent voters are no-shows. Some don’t realize they can vote in a partisan primary. Others are offended at having to choose between a Republican and Democratic ballot or discouraged by the paucity of choices.

Some just assume they’ll automatically get a ballot because they’re on the permanent early-voting list – not realizing that unlike Republicans and Democrats, independents must take action in order to receive an early ballot.

So take action.

Today, county elections officials across the state will mail out postcards to those on the permanent early-voting list. To get an early ballot, independents must return the postcard, indicating which party’s ballot they want. Or beginning today, they can call their county elections office to request a ballot (in Maricopa County, call 602-506-1511).

Someday, we’ll get rid of the primary system dominated by two parties that are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of middle Arizona — that is, moderates who don’t believe that compromise is a traitorous act.

See how Laurie Roberts  blatantly misleads that NOP voters = “Independents” = “moderates”? At this point I have to believe that Roberts is anti-science, rejecting the weight of political science that debunks her media villager theory.

Or maybe she has more partisan designs? ‘Top-two’ primary elections spell end for many minor parties:

Doomsday could be fast approaching for California’s smallest political parties.

Top-TwoWith the coming of “top-two” primary elections in California, thanks to passage of Proposition 14 in 2010, the Green, Peace and Freedom, Libertarian, American Independent, and Americans Elect parties find themselves in danger of disappearing from the state ballot, joining the Prohibition, Socialist and Progressive parties in the mists of California’s history.

“We’re getting wiped out by top two,” said Michael Feinstein, spokesman for the Green Party. “It’s wiping out political diversity and choice that voters now are not going to get.”

With the Democrats and Republicans having a stranglehold on those top spots, there won’t be any minor party candidates on the November ballot.

Roberts also misleads that the “top two” or “jungle primary” would increase voter turnout in primary elections. California election: Voter malaise might bring record-low primary turnout:

StopTop2With just over a week to go before Election Day, the Golden State is gearing up for — or perhaps, altogether ignoring — what could be its lowest-ever turnout in a primary for governor.

The top of the ticket looks like a yawn, as most experts see two contenders vying for the right to lose to Gov. Jerry Brown in November. And despite California’s “top-two” primary system opening the ballot to all voters, a dearth of competitive races, the absence of citizen initiatives and general voter apathy have changed the character of midterm primaries.

* * *

Meanwhile, the top-two primary system and online voter registration haven’t created the bumper crop of new voters their supporters had hoped for, said Eric McGhee, a Public Policy Institute of California research fellow and an expert in voting behavior and political participation.

“I wouldn’t be optimistic,” he said. “People seem to be really jazzed by the competitive contest between the parties, and primary elections don’t really offer that.”

At least, they didn’t until California adopted its top-two primary system, in which voters of any party affiliation can choose from among all candidates. “But I don’t know yet whether voters are seeing it that way or are still operating in that Republican-Democrat world,” McGhee said. “There’s some crossover voting, but a lot of people are still making decisions within each party. That may change over time and that may get people more excited … but I think that’s only likely to happen for statewide races.”

Independent voters historically “are not usually that jazzed about showing up for a primary election and usually need something to help get them there,” he said.

The “top two” primary is such a failure that this is how some intend to “jazz” the voters: San Jose pot clubs offer free weed to voters:

Voters with medical marijuana cards can get more than just an “I Voted” sticker after casting their ballots on Tuesday.

The Silicon Valley Cannabis Coalition will be providing free weed to members who vote in the Tuesday election. The coalition said it will announce a list of clubs participating in the “Weed for Votes” program Monday; members must show proof with an “I Voted” sticker or ballot stub.

[Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said the offer itself does not appear to violate state election law, which prohibits trying to influence voters with an offer of “money, gift, loan, or other valuable consideration, office, place, or employment.” However, depending on how the offer is administrated, it still could violate California law, according to the statement, and possibly federal law.]

So give it a rest, Ms. Roberts. The “top two” or “jungle primary” is not the panacea you believe it is to moderate your batshit crazy insane modern-day GOP. The “centrists” and “moderates” are actually the Democrats. Accept it.

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AZ BlueMeanie
The Blue Meanie is an Arizona citizen who wishes, for professional reasons, to remain anonymous when blogging about politics. Armed with a deep knowledge of the law, politics and public policy, as well as pen filled with all the colors stolen from Pepperland, the Blue Meanie’s mission is to pursue and prosecute the hypocrites, liars, and fools of politics and the media – which, in practical terms, is nearly all of them. Don’t even try to unmask him or he’ll seal you in a music-proof bubble and rendition you to Pepperland for a good face-stomping. Read blog posts by the infamous and prolific AZ Blue Meanie here.


  1. The other big flaw in the Villager “magic independent voters” plan is that no-party-preference voters are the least likely to volunteer, donate, or participate in elections in any way. There are never going to be armies of enthusiastic moderate/centrist/independent volunteers pounding the pavement to increase primary turnout or GOTV for blandly inoffensive Chamber of Commerce-approved candidates. The kind of people who are engaged enough to put their own skin in the game tend to join a party. This is why it’s highly unlikely that Top Two will ever increase primary turnout.

    But, of course, we know that was never the point. Paul Johnson, the guy behind the Top Two effort here, admitted as much on TV in 2012. It has always been about putting yet more power over elections into the hands of rich people and corporations. People supporting this because it sounds good on the surface should ask themselves why its proponents insist it has to be Top Two and not other, more democratic reforms such as ranked choice voting or simply moving the primary up to March from late August (making for a longer general election season).

    As for Roberts, For someone who touts herself as such a crusader for reform, she sure seems attached to many aspects of the status quo.

  2. I should think the last thing an “independent” voter wants to see on general election day is a ballot where they have a choice between two (and only two) candidates, both of whom might be from the same party. Top Two is the exact opposite of what it claims to be. It’s undemocratic and anti-choice. Speaking of the latter, anyone who cares about reproductive rights should oppose this vigorously. Democrats are the only ones looking out for them at this point.

  3. I never heard so much nonsense about “Independents” before moving to AZ, and I have to admit I don’t understand it.The ones I have seen that are proudly “Independent” always seem to wind up voting Republican (or not voting at all) although I am sure there are Dem “independents” too.

    I think it is some kind of psychological quirk .

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