Friday, October 7, 2011

Q Day 1: Open Primaries?

Great questions coming in. First up, Tybalt wants to know:
Why are there open primaries? What possible benefit do they serve?
I'll start with the punch line: for the most part, open primaries don't seem to make much of a difference. That's because primary elections are low-turnout events in most cases, and so the most informed, attentive voters are the ones who tend to vote in them, and they tend to be partisans (and only a very tiny number of extremely high-information voters are likely to raid the other party's primary in order to deliberately try to mess them up).

As far as why they exist....the most common reason given is anti-party; some people believe that it's undemocratic for a smaller group of people to select the candidates and to therefore restrict everyone else to a narrow choice in the general election. I disagree with that, as long as the parties are permeable and relatively non-hierarchical (that is, as long as the parties are internally open and democratic).

As a practical matter, some states have no party registration, so they more or less have to have open primaries.

There's actually one reason for open primaries that I would support: if the parties prefer them as a form of advertising, or as a means of affecting outcomes (I can imagine circumstances in which that could be the case).

In principle, however, I think it's very good for democracy for parties to control their own nominations, so if they want closed primaries I support their right to do so.


  1. Didn't McCain do better in open primary states? If "independents" alone weren't enough to win him the nomination, the fact that he did well with them encouraged Republicans to support him. In the most "closed" states, the caucuses, McCain did poorly.

    Also, it seems like an awful lot of Hillary primary voters ended up not voting for Obama in 2008, particularly in the white South. Not that they were crazy activist PUMAs, but relative conservatives with only a residual loyalty to the Democratic party, who either really liked Clinton or wanted to stop Obama. On both sides of that race a lot of people who didn't usually care about a Democratic primary turned out in support of Clinton or Obama, both of whom already had a large national profile.

  2. Yes, McCain won Michigan's primary in 2000 only because the Left organized actively to support him, to give a slap to Governor Engler, who had declared that Michigan would be a "firewall" for Bush. Gore was a shoo-in for the D nomination, as we know, so the lefty malefactors skipped over to the McCain line. I still remember David Bonior challenging Engler on tv afterwards: "How'd that firewall thing work out, John?!" It was hilarious.

    So, open primaries can be manipulated, no doubt.

    But as the political parties all want to sponge off the taxpayers in paying for their primaries, they have to accept whatever the politicians agree upon, open/closed/whatever, state by state.

  3. McCain did better in open primary states (but no, not particularly because of "Left organized activity").

    But since McCain never came close to being nominated, I'm not sure it was important in any way.

    I doubt there were very many sincere Hillary -> McCain voters in 2008.

  4. I doubt you have any data to support your claim that there was no "Left organized activity" in the 2000 Michigan primary. However, we have data of D and R participation in that primary, and the total D participation wasn't even a rounding error to the total participation, which was all R. That ain't a fluke. There was form here.

    Not to mention, we had your infamous "party actors" claiming that was exactly what they were doing, said mostly off the record, but scattered instances on the record.

    Open primaries invite that, and facilitate it at minimum. Rush Limbaugh had his megaphone out for Operation Chaos in 2008, as you'll recall. Think the dittoheads didn't follow their fuhrer, do ya'?

    Not saying I'm against open primaries, and anything a state wants is fine by me. And if the parties want to clan up and keep my tax dollars out of it, more power to 'em.

  5. Anon,

    Yeah, I don't think that very many dittoheads raided the Democratic primaries in 2008. And "any data to support your claim that there was no 'Left organized activity'" isn't the way these things go; those making claims that there *was* activity need to supply evidence.

    The numbers just don't work. Even compared to relatively small primary electorates, there just aren't enough super-high-info voters around to make raiding a major issue.

    (I'm vaguely remembering that someone who comments here -- Matt Jarvis, perhaps? -- did a paper once on the topic, and perhaps whoever it is will chime in on this).

  6. Ok, so we're both clamoring for hard data that would be impossible to provide. Fair enough.

    But you're still discounting 20M dittoheads, in a close primary, in which just a few dittoheads in the right states might help swing a state or 2. It's at the margins here, and in marginal states, that this matters.

    But that Michigan 2000 primary IS a data set, and it is an anomaly. Not even a rounding error showed up for the D's, and the R primary was flooded. Think about that. And then tell me that you don't believe the R's count didn't include some lefties, particularly since the lefties made it known that was their intent.

    Open primaries leave us with that. I got no problem with it, frankly, because people should have a right to vote in any way they want and have it count, unless it's a D primary and super delegates bump them into counting LESS. ;-)

  7. If you're talking about 2008 (as opposed to 2000), the only primaries McCain lost were Michigan (open), Alabama (open), Arkansas (open), Georgia (open), Massachusetts (semi-closed), Tennessee (open), Utah (open), and Louisiana (closed).

    So, McCain did worse in open primaries than in closed primaries.


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