Friday, September 21, 2012

Ticket Splitters: History's Greatest Monsters

 Voters gonna vote (Source:

I was having a back and forth on Twitter last night about the psychology behind ticket-splitting voters. Based on polls in Wisconsin, Virginia, and Massachusetts, a significant percentage of voters are voting for Barack Obama for President, and the GOP candidate for Senator - in these cases splitting their tickets Obama/Tommy Thompson (WI), Obama/George Allen (VA), and Obama/Scott Brown (MA).

Based on the opinion of Alec MacGillis, who has more intimate knowledge of MA politics, the Obama/Brown polling is not that surprising. But still, polls show Obama's lead 25-34 points in the Bay state, while Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown have basically been running tied for most of the year with them trading small leads.

The Obama/Thompson polling trends are similar. Obama's margin has been larger than Tammy Baldwin's margin over Thompson. And some polls have Obama and Thompson leading. It's been an odd few years in Wisconsin politics with many of the same voters supporting both Obama and Governor Scott Walker, which is sort of like supporting both the Red Sox AND the Yankees. But the Obama/Allen polling is the most curious. Allen represents Old Virginny. Obama's electoral prospects in VA are bright largely because of the influx of college-educated white collar voters in the Northern VA suburbs who are either transplants or have become more liberal as years have passed. But some 3-5% of voters in VA seem to be supporting both Obama and Allen. Although Tim Kaine did have a good poll earlier this week which shows him running about the same as Obama.

People should not underestimate how good of a politician Allen is and apparently how likeable he is in VA. Let's recall in 2006, it was a strong Democratic midterm election year and Allen used a racial slur during the campaign ("Macaca") and yet still barely lost by just 7,231 votes with over 2.36 million votes cast.

And that leads up to my point that people who split national tickets are really hurting our country, mainly by sending mixed electoral messages and increasing the likelihood of gridlock. I understand if you vote for one party locally for mayor or city council or even some statewide races and then vote for the other party for Senate or President. Local interests are different than national interests and often for local elections you do vote the person rather than the party. And some of us live in one-party towns. But nationally, you should vote the party with whom you most identify, period.

For all the 3rd party mumbo jumbo about how the two major parties are basically the same, they are actually quite different. Just compare the party platforms, the competing Obama/Romney tax and budget plans, etc. If you don't see any major differences, then you are just being willfully ignorant and/or justifying your apathy. If you actually pay close attention to politics and have a strong opinion, then it seems hard to reconcile how you'd be an "independent" who could vote for Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2008 or 2012. I don't doubt a lot of those voters exist. I just doubt they really pay close attention to politics and rationally think through their decisions.

You grow up presumably forming some opinions on issues and develop a worldview. And then you look at the two parties and figure out which one is most closely aligned with your views, which one addresses your pet issues, and then you vote that party. And over time (sometimes decades) you hope to keep moving the ball forward a few yards at a time. That's how you exercise political influence rationally.

Perhaps back in the days when the filibuster wasn't abused, splitting tickets for President and Senate was more acceptable and possibly even strategically desirable if you were a moderate voter. The theory is the President would then have to compromise with the Senate, which may be controlled by the other party. And then they'd reach some swell bipartisan compromises on all the big issues of the day. Bwahahaha! And then you woke up or you turned off that Aaron Sorkin show you were watching.

That sounds great, but that hasn't really been politically attainable since the regional realignment of the parties neared completion in the 1990s and the use of the filibuster increased in the Senate. These days it works like this: if 41 or more Senators don't feel there's a political incentive to vote for a bill nor feel there's a political price to pay for voting against a bill, they won't vote for it. It doesn't matter if it's something they used to support. It doesn't matter if it's a bill they sponsored in the recent past. The Senate is currently among the world's worst legislative bodies. Voters in VA, WI, and MA who are going to vote for Obama but also vote for the GOP Senate candidate, are decreasing the chances of passing meaningful legislation by potentially making the Senate even more dysfunctional.

And the flip side of that is if you don't want to see Romney become President, then if he wins you are increasing the chances that he'll be working with a majority in the Senate by splitting the ticket. To most Obama supporters, that's actually a scarier prospect and more a motivation to vote for Democrats than the inverse.

You are presumably voting for Obama because you like him and/or agree with his vision for the country and want to see him to succeed and get things done. So a vote for the GOP Senator would make an Obama win less decisive and make it less likely that he'll be able to succeed and get things done. It's self-defeating, irrational, somewhat ignorant of the stakes in this election, and likely will contribute to more inertia in Washington.

I urge you, if you know any of these ticket-splitting monsters who usually lean Democratic, grab them by the collar and explain to them why they need to snap out of it and fall in line before they destroy America! Or something. And if you're typically a Republican voter who is splitting tickets and voting for Democrats, I think you're being completely illogical, but keep up the good work!

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