Thursday, January 31, 2008

Political Reform, Lesson 10: Declaring Our Independent Status

Depending on where you live, your official status as an independent voter may go by a variety of different terms, some good, some bad. The last I checked, here are some of the terms used in a sampling of states:

  • Unaffiliated or No Affiliation
  • No Party or No Party Affiliation
  • Non-partisan
  • Decline to State

Some states describe independents in such a way that if I lived in any of those states, I'd be tempted to write a postscript:

  • New Jersey—"I do not wish to declare a political party affiliation at this time” ("Gee, give me a minute, though, and maybe I will")
  • Oregon—“Not a member of a party” ("Not now, not ever, no way, no how")

Considering that it is elected or appointed officials who determine the language of voter registration forms, it's a wonder we don't have more egregious examples of language designed to manipulate voter registration rolls, as is the case in Arizona. That state managed to erase some 140,000 independent voters from its voter database by changing the wording of its registration forms. Where once you could register as an independent, as of 2006 your only choice was “Specify Party Preference.” It's no surprise that the major parties enjoyed sitting back and watching their ranks swell as some voters felt coerced into choosing a party.

Whatever. I am an independent, unaffiliated, non-partisan voter. I refuse to specify a party preference—because I have none—and I DO NOT WISH TO ENROLL IN A PARTY. EVER. SO THERE.

Political Reform, Lesson 9: Making Sure Our Votes Count

Until the 2000 presidential election, I never gave any thought as to whether or not my vote was actually tabulated. I just assumed it was. After all, this is America, for crying out loud. You fill out your ballot, something or somebody counts it, and that's that.

All voters have reason to be concerned about election problems: machines that malfunction, count a single vote multiple times, or lose thousands of other votes; prohibitively long lines at polling places, particularly in urban areas; holding elections on a workday; inadequately trained poll workers; and the lack of a paper trail of votes registered using electronic machines, among others.

But what makes this a specifically independent-voter issue is the fact that all too many election problems result from voter suppression tactics and election manipulation on the part of the major parties.

Republican strategist Paul Weyrich, one of the founders of the Heritage Foundation and Moral Majority, once said this: "I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of the people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."

I'm sure if I looked hard enough, I could find an example of a Democrat expressing a similar sentiment. Neither major party can lay an exclusive claim on efforts to suppress and manipulate the vote, which is yet another reason why many of us became independents. We refuse to be associated with two parties that are so determined to acquire and maintain power that they would try to keep the rest of us from voting if that would be to their advantage.

We can repair our broken elections systems, but first we need to look at just what needs fixing. Next time: one tactic that especially rankles independents.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Political Reform, Lesson 8: Drawing the Lines

Independents find this abuse of political power to be especially heinous. However, most Americans consider redistricting—drawing the lines of congressional districts—to be synonymous with "drowsy somnolence." Really, if you want to quickly kill a conversation with anyone other than a political junkie, just mention congressional redistricting.

Members of the U.S. Congress would have it no other way. They want us to be bored to death and as disengaged as possible when it comes to determining who will represent us. It's no secret that the two major parties often collude in drawing the district lines: You give us this area with all these Republican voters, and we'll let you have that area with all those Democratic voters.  

All this results in some pretty bizarre—and non-competitive—districts. Enter Manifold System's Dimitri Rotow, who created several Google Earth files showing some of the worst districts in the country. His work is an eye-opener, and pretty cool to boot.

You can also play The Redistricting Game, which was developed by some brains at USC to help the Mensa-challenged understand how legislative districts are created. “This system is subject to a wide range of abuses and manipulations that encourage incumbents to draw districts which protect their seats rather than risk an open contest," the website tells us. The game "allows players to experience the realities of one of the most important (yet least understood) aspects of our political system.” And—the thrills are never-ending—there's a game based on the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act of 2007 (a.k.a. the Tanner Redistricting Bill), which calls for independent, rather than bipartisan, redistricting commissions and other reforms.

Then there's Gerryminder, an online simulation developed to teach college students about congressional elections, representation, and gerrymandering. "By putting students in a position to manipulate district lines in multiple contexts, Gerryminder provides a non-boring, experiential way to teach redistricting," we're told. Let me know what you think; I haven't given it a test drive yet.

There are lots of proposed solutions to this problem, but the powers that be are—surprise!—resistant to those efforts. One such proposal is particularly popular among independents—the creation of “superdistricts,” in which several legislators would represent a single district. They believe that such a reform would increase voter participation, offer fairer representation, and give independents and third-party candidates a chance to not only run but maybe even win.

Next time we move on to reforms that directly affect voters. And non-voters. Or both.

Uncounted Votes


Among the political reforms near and dear to the hearts of independent voters and candidates, as well as many partisans, is the need for an overhaul of the way our votes are tabulated. We'll get to that reform later, but right now it's time for recess. In fact, it's movie time.

I haven't seen this particular flick yet, but I'm looking forward to it almost as much as I did when I waited, with rapid and bated breath, for Serenity to come to town. Almost.

This one is called Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections, and it takes a look at the vote-counting problems (shall we call it "election fraud"?) that plagued the 2004 and 2006 elections. And as I understand it, the film also shows how angry citizens turned their rage into political activism—the kind of transformation we need to see more of.

Check the website to see if a screening is scheduled to be held in your area. The director, David Earnhardt, holds a question and answer session after each screening.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Political Reform, Lesson 7: Throwing the Bucks Out

As much as I'd like to blame, oh, I don't know, some person for what I consider to be the single most harmful element in our political system, I can't. By comparison, it would be so easy just to throw the bum out if there was a bum to blame. But no. The most immoral, unconscionable, reprehensible factor in politics is the exorbitant and shameful amount of money that controls our elected officials, our legislative bodies, our elections, and as a result, our lives.

Yes, we're talking here about campaign finance reform.

Right now, the projections are that this will be our first $1 billion election. This would not be the kind of milestone we want to celebrate, right? Oh, the adjectives that come to mind! Unconscionable, disgraceful, heinous, abhorrent, scandalous, offensive.

Roget's cannot contain the number of legitimate and made-up words I could use to describe this atrocity.

I cannot wrap my head around the numbers that apply to campaign spending. Nor do I have the ability to figure out which of the many proposals for campaign finance reform might actually work. I'm assuming that if I did use my inconsiderable clout to back one such proposal, I'd eventually find out that it was a mere smokescreen for even more dubious financial dealings.

So I've boiled this issue down to the barest elements of what I need to know. I need to know that McCain-Feingold refers to the wildly unpopular 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which in part prohibits political parties from using soft money, the donations raised by political action committees (PACs) and nonprofit political groups (such as 527s). PACs are special interest groups (think the ever-evil "big tobacco"); 527s are organizations created specifically to impact elections (think the anti-Kerry Swift Boat Veterans for Truth). Hard money, by the way, is a direct donation to a candidate or campaign.

That's all I need to know. That and the fact that candidates spend way too much money buying our votes. Let's see—I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong here, so let me say up front that these stats are suspect, as is my math—in 2004, around 200 million people were eligible to vote, while about 125 million actually voted. Let's say that 140 million will actually vote this year, it being a year that should bring out lots more voters. Now let's say that half of those people would vote for their party's candidate regardless of who it is, so that whittles the number down to 70 million votes that are actually up for grabs. Oh, and let's figure that this year 10 million people have already decided that they will vote for third-party candidates who don't have any chance of winning and who raised very little money. So...that makes $1 billion divided by 60 million voters.* That means the two major-party candidates will have spent roughly $16 and change for each vote.

That doesn't sound like much, does it? Well, I can't speak for anyone else, but my vote is worth a whole lot more than that. In fact, it's priceless. I feel utterly cheapened.

Yes, it costs candidates a lot to get their message out. But not that much. Not $1 billion for one presidential race. Not so much that special interests end up funding the elections and calling the shots and ultimately running our lives. We need a better way to do this.

Among those trying to find a better way are Common Cause ("Holding Power Accountable"), Democracy21, the League of Women Voters, Ralph Nader's Public Citizen, Democracy Matters, and other groups that offer information on campaign finance reform. They are the ones who get my vote.

*I was an English major. If my calculation is wrong, you do the math.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Political Reform, Lesson 6: Throwing the Bums Out

The first discussion on the issue of term limits that I recall having was with a political reporter at a newspaper where I once worked. He was such a firm believer in the power of the voting booth that he didn't see the need for term limits. He reasoned that term limits would work unfairly against good representatives and that all we needed to do was vote out the bad legislators. This, of course, was not an original perspective. This is the reasoning many people use in opposing term limits.

That reasoning fails on several counts. Count 1: Without term limits, those good representatives may turn into very bad career politicians. It's not a given, but look at the veteran members of Congress and compare who they are today with who they were when they were first elected. Without naming names—I'm all about keeping this impersonal—I think we could come up with one or two or 200 members of Congress who qualify as career politicians, and very bad ones at that.

Count 2: In a nation of 300 million-plus people, I do think we could scare up some effective representatives to succeed those whose terms have reached their limit. And the departing politicians, if they're all that good and effective, could surely find a way to continue serving the country.

Count 3: The good people of, say, Georgia would love the opportunity to vote out some of their career politicians. But when said politicians are so powerful that they consistently run unopposed, voting them out is not that simple. There are legislators across the land who own their districts; heaven help the candidates who mount viable campaigns opposing them.

Oh, and here's another argument against term limits: By the time a representative learns how the system in Washington (or your state capital) works, it would be time for him or her to go home for good. We need experienced members of Congress and our state legislatures, some people argue.

Counts 4 and 5: I say "Thank God!" to the first part and "Baloney!" to the second. Thank God that maybe one day none of our representatives will know how the system works. The system—politics as it is practiced in America today—is broken, corrupt, and in need of repair. I want representatives who, whether out of ignorance or determination, will pioneer a new way of doing politics. And as to the need for members of Congress with experience, I suggest that the worst kind of experience is that which comes from years, and even decades, of learning to work in a dysfunctional environment without attempting to change that environment. Again I say that in a nation of so many competent people, I do think we can find candidates whose experience outside of politics would serve the country well for a few years.

We imposed term limits on the presidency way back in the 20th century, and many independents and partisans alike feel it's time to do the same with Congress. Public support is as high as it is for the elimination of the electoral college, with more than 75 percent of the people favoring term limits. Some groups would like to impose a two-year limit on all members of Congress, while others have proposed a single, longer term. Citizens for Term Limits proposes one six-year term for senators and three two-year terms for representatives. Other groups include (“The Independent Journal for Independent Politics”), whose mission is self-evident, as is the mission of the Pennsylvania-based

Some states and municipalities have already passed term-limit laws. You can find out what's going on in your state by visiting U.S. Term Limits (“Citizen Legislators, Not Career Politicians").

And before you even ask, yes, the independents I know support term limits on independent candidates. We're nothing if not fair.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Political Reform, Lesson 5: Fusing Two Parties

Fusion in the political sense of the word is a controversial reform, even among independents. I probably should have saved it for Lesson 20 or so, but it fits in nicely with our recent ballot discussions, so there you go. Lesson 5 it is.

Here's the deal: Fusion allows a candidate to run as a member of two or more "parties," including as an independent. Partisans on the losing end of the deal hate fusion. Some independents don't like it either, because the fusion candidate is often associated with one of the two big, bad parties and because it gives voters fewer choices.

Case in point: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who ran, and won, as a Republican and as a candidate with the Independence Party of New York City in his 2002 election and 2006 re-election. His name appeared in the Republican column and the IPNYC column, and in 2002, the number of votes he received in the IPNYC column gave him the win. Had he run only as a Republican, he would have lost, assuming that the IPNYC votes would have gone to a different candidate chosen by the Independence Party. That "different candidate" would have at least given the voters an additional choice, some independents say.

But fusion has several advantages, not the least of which is its face-saving and conscience-saving value. In Bloomberg's case, independents, IPNYC and other third-party members, uncommitteds, and even a Democrat or two were able to vote for him without embarrassment or guilt; by voting for him as the IPNYC candidate, they could neatly circumvent the horror of voting for a Republican.

A second advantage is this, and again I use the Bloomberg campaign as an example: The Independent Party of New York City did not automatically embrace Bloomberg as its candidate of choice. The IPNYC held the cards; Bloomberg had to listen to independents' concerns, address those concerns, and pledge to make them a priority should he be elected. Only when he did so, to their satisfaction, was he named their candidate.

Partisans hate fusion, and you can see why. Running against the opposing major party's candidate is bad enough, but when that candidate has the official approval of independents and third parties, he or she becomes a much more formidable opponent. Not surprisingly, partisans are at the forefront of efforts to ban fusion in states where the practice is legal and to defeat pro-fusion initiatives in other states.

There you have it. Political fusion. Definitely not sexy, but it can liven up an otherwise ho-hum race.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Political Reform, Lesson 4: Giving Independents a Fighting Chance

The independents who most need a fighting chance are the candidates themselves. Even though Ross Perot received 19 percent of the popular vote in 1992, he did not garner a single electoral college vote. In addition to the National Popular Vote plan, a number of other efforts would correct some of the problems inherent in the structure of the electoral college.

Here are two such plans that would help give voters more choices by increasing the field of candidates, which always appeals to independents:

  • Instant Runoff Voting allows voters to rank the candidates in order of preference. The winner would be the candidate who receives the most number 1 votes. If no candidate wins by a majority of number-one votes, the candidate with the fewest number-one votes is eliminated. Votes for him or her are counted toward those voters' number-two choices, and so on until one candidate receives a majority. The votes are tabulated immediately, eliminating the need for a second round of runoff voting. This is also known as rank-order voting, choice voting, or preferential voting.
  • Approval Voting: Under this plan, you get to vote for as many candidates as you like. If there are five candidates and you like two of them, you simply place check marks by those two names. The winner, of course, is the candidate who receives the most check marks. Not surprisingly, this plan would probably never be used in presidential elections, but a number of municipalities are considering using it in local elections. This simplicity of the plan makes the voting process inexpensive and easy to learn.

Both plans would eliminate both the lesser-of-two-evils dilemma and the spoiler phenomenon, and could quite possibly eliminate the need for primaries.

No electoral college? No primaries? Oh, the possibilities!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Political Reform 101, Lesson 3: Making Each Vote Count

Let's say we, the 75 percent of the American public who want to do away with the electoral college, insist that Congress eliminate said college (see Lesson 2). Let's say that we fail, which we know we will, because Congress simply won't do that in the lifetime of anyone who is alive today. Well, all is not lost. As it turns out, it won't take an act of Congress to make sure each and every vote counts.

Enter the National Vote Plan. Under NPV, the states will work this out on their own, neatly bypassing Congress. States would enter into a compact with each other in which they would agree to have their electors (yes, they'd still be around) vote for the candidate who wins the nationwide popular vote. This would avoid the possibility that a candidate could win the popular vote but lose the presidency because of the current structure of the electoral college.

If NPV is a success, candidates would be forced to campaign in every state instead of focusing their attention on the so-called "battleground" states. And individual voters would finally matter.

The proposal is not problem-free, but it can work, and it has the support of legislators of every political persuasion. So far, two states—Maryland and New Jersey—have signed on. That's pretty good for a plan that's been around for just over a year. You can find out more at (where else?)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Political Reform, Lesson 2: Graduating from College

The electoral college, that is. Now before your eyes glaze over and you click on "Next Blog," let me assure you that I'd skip this lesson if I could. But until the U.S. abolishes the electoral college or we find a suitable workaround, we should at least try to understand this bizarre institution we're stuck with, one whose existence makes no sense today.

It barely made sense back when the founding fathers established it. Or maybe I'm overly sensitive to distrust, having been in one too many churches where the leadership didn't trust the parishioners. Because the thing is, the founding fathers didn't trust the electorate. They figured that ordinary people like you and me were subject to manipulation by roving bands of evil candidates, and so they gave voting power to the state rather than to the individual. In so doing, they also gave less-populated states an edge (some say an unfair edge, since each vote in those states counts for more than each vote in highly populated states).

Here's the thing. We are no longer a society in which our exposure to candidates is limited to fliers, newspaper articles, and rare public appearances in our towns. We are so inundated with information about the candidates that a truly sinister presidential wannabe would be sniffed out right away. Even our founding fathers would have to concede that the Internet in particular has contributed to the making of an informed and not-so-gullible electorate (yes, we could argue about that—endlessly, I'm sure—but then we'd be talking about the exceptions and not the rule).

We're stuck with the electoral college, by the way, because history has shown that we're not likely to get rid of it. I had always thought that this discontent with the electoral college was a recent phenomenon, but no. It seems there have been more than 700 attempts to reform or abolish the electoral college through a constitutional amendment, according to the National Archives:

There have been more proposals for Constitutional amendments on changing the Electoral College than on any other subject…Public opinion polls have shown Americans favored abolishing it by majorities of 58 percent in 1967; 81 percent in 1968; and 75 percent in 1981.

And independents dislike the electoral college because:

Third parties have not fared well in the Electoral College system...The last third party or splinter party candidate to make a strong showing was Theodore Roosevelt in 1912... He finished a distant second in electoral and popular votes (taking 88 of the 266 electoral votes needed to win). Although Ross Perot won 19 percent of the popular vote nationwide in 1992, he did not win any electoral votes since he was not particularly strong in any one or several states.

Okay, enough. Next time, we'll look at some creative ideas for getting around the electoral college.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Political Reform 101, Lesson 1: Getting on the Ballot

Before I began writing We the Purple, I knew as much about what it takes to get on an election ballot as I knew about the mating habits of bottlenose dolphins.* But as my research led me from independent voters to independent candidates, I began to realize that I had entered into the swampland of U.S. politics for real. "Dirty tricks" doesn't begin to describe the measures used by partisan politicos to keep the names of would-be independent and third-party candidates from ever appearing on a ballot.

This issue is known as ballot access, and it's one that will make your eyes glaze over...until, say, you discover that you can't vote for the candidate of your choice. Sounds utterly un-American, doesn't it? But that's what happened to me in 2004, when I discovered that my ballot did not offer a write-in option in the presidential race. Turns out, election districts are under no obligation to provide such an option. But that's another problem.

Ballot access is a critical issue for independents, because until independent candidates stand a decent shot at political office on any level, we aren't likely to see the other reforms that our political system so obviously needs.

Here are just some of the problems:

  • Ballot access regulations for independents vary wildly from one state to the next, often include impossible requirements, and are so complex that you have to assume the intention is to keep all but the major party candidates from running.
  • Voters seldom learn anything about independent candidates because the candidates have had to spend all their time and money meeting ballot requirements instead of talking about the issues.
  • Stringent ballot access laws limit our choices, contributing to lesser-of-two-evils voting.
  • Incumbents in many legislative districts go unchallenged because the opposing party simply cedes the seat, and no independent or minor party candidate can meet the strict ballot requirements.

For fun, go to your state's web site and and check out what it takes to get on the ballot for statewide office for anyone other than a major party candidate (they usually just have to file some forms and pay a filing fee). Oh, wait a minute. You probably won't find the information on the web site. You may have to go to the secretary of state's office at your state capital, and hope and pray that the documents you're given are 1) accurate and 2) complete. Don't be surprised if they're neither.

Oh, democracy!

Forget all that. You can find the best information anywhere on the issue of ballot access on Richard Winger's Ballot Access web site. Just be prepared to become sickened, angry, and enlightened, in whatever order your nature normally responds to new and perverse information.


* Bottlenose mating involves a conspiracy of love-struck males and a pod of immobilized females. That's all I know, and that's all I want to know.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sex, Sleep, and Political Reform

Over the summer of 2007, when I was working on the manuscript for We the Purple (which releases in March), I spent an inordinate amount of time researching, and trying like the dickens to sex up, the political reform issues that most independent voters agree on.

To me, this is one of our greatest strengths as a movement. Indies come from across the political spectrum, and when it comes to candidates and broader issues like immigration, health care, and the military, we don't always agree. But when it comes to reforming the political system, we're on board with each other.

Getting the non-activist segment of the electorate to care about just-shoot-me topics like redistricting is a daunting task. In my book, I launch into a discussion of one such issue by calling it a bedtime story. Seriously, if you don't approach issues like this with a measure of humor, and sex if you can manage to weave that in somehow, well, you'll just put your audience to sleep.

Mind you, I finished We the Purple in August. Imagine my surprise when I opened the latest issue of The Neo-Independent and saw this snippet from an editorial about political reform issues by executive editor Jackie Salit:

Oh no, you may be thinking. Not that again! Of course we need political reform - everyone knows that. But these issues just aren't sexy! They have no glamour, no drama, no emotion. Political reform is dry. It's not like money, sex and war, which excite our passions and compel our senses. Let's be frank. Political reform? It's a snore.

We're definitely on the same page, no? Anyway, for the next few posts, I'll be looking at some of what I consider to be the most important reforms. I promise I'll do my best to make it sexy and exciting and irreverent and maybe even funny. We'll see. Check in next time for the first session of Political Reform 101.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Evangelical Vote? It's Not That Simple

And that's what I keep hammering away at—in a non-injurious, gracious, and ever-so-lighthearted way. There is no evangelical vote, just evangelicals who vote. Though it seems as if evangelicals vote with one voice, they don't. In the past, that perception was certainly a more accurate one, but even then evangelicals were not of one accord when it came to choosing a president.

Christianity Today understands that and would really, really appreciate it if the media and the American public would do the same. In an editorial titled What We Really Want, the writer puts it this way:

...Evangelicalism doesn't function like an AFL-CIO, granting endorsements and delivering votes on election day. There isn't an evangelical vote. We are not some pious voting bloc up for grabs. Regardless of how pollsters might pigeonhole us, evangelicals come from across a broad spectrum of society—pragmatic, purist, and in-between.

And, I might add, from a broad spectrum of political ideologies, ultra liberal on some issues to ultra conservative on others and in-between on still others. The editorial reminds readers of the seven core commitments established by the National Association of Evangelicals in 2004: freedom of religion and conscience; protection for families and children; protection of all human life; compassion and justice for poor people; global human rights; the pursuit of peace and restraint of violence; and biblically based creation care. I read a blog recently in which a commenter asked just where are these evangelicals who care about peace, justice, the poor and the environment. I could have provided names and addresses, but the tone of the post was such that I knew I'd just get sucked into a never-ending series of email exchanges with someone whose mind was made up, and that was that.

The CT editorial brings up a number of important issues that evangelicals would like to see addressed while the pundits are busy pondering whether Barack is black enough or Hillary is warm enough. It ends thusly:

So, candidates, beware of that raised hand at the next town meeting. It may be connected to an activist evangelical who wants some honest answers about the substantive issues that face our nation.

We can only hope.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Kucinich's Short-Lived Victory

As I write this, I'm watching tonight's Democratic debate to see whether NBC will address the lawsuit Dennis Kucinich's campaign filed after Kucinich was uninvited to said debate. So far, nothing.

For a brief refresher, Kucinich was told he qualified to participate in the debate and was formally invited to do so. Then, he was abruptly disinvited. His campaign filed the lawsuit, and on Monday (January 14) a state judge in Nevada, where the debate is being held, ruled that either Kucinich be allowed to participate or the judge would stop the event.

When I heard that, I was absolutely elated. Not because I'm a Kucinich supporter (am I? am I not? who knows?) but because I am a diehard supporter of open and fair debates. Alas, my elation, and Kucinich's victory, were both short-lived. Today, a  state supreme court judge overruled the district court judge, and Kucinich was left out in the desert. You can read about it here.

That brings me to the real issue: those elusive "open and fair" debates. Maybe I carry that concept to an extreme. See, I think an open and fair debate doesn't just depend on the inclusion of certain candidates. Yes, I want Kucinich and Mike Gravel and Ron Paul and  Duncan Hunter included in the debates because they succeed in bringing up important issues even when the moderator fails to ask about those issues.

But I want more when it comes to openness and fairness. I want the consultants and handlers and script writers to fade into the background, forcing the candidates to come out into the open to offer their unrehearsed, straight-from-the-gut responses to questions they didn't get to see in advance. I'd like the moderators to ask some real zingers and follow up when the candidate fails to clearly answer said zingers.

I think that would only be fair. And open.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Hillary's Win in New Hampshire

I admit it: I was among those who were taken by surprise when Hillary Clinton won the NH Democratic primary. Given the fact that independents generally dislike the old school partisanship that Hillary Clinton represents, that NH independents in particular had experienced several favorable encounters with the Barack Obama camp in recent months, that by contrast Clinton pretty much dissed them, and that independents comprise 44 percent of the electorate in NH, an Obama win seemed like a sure thing. You could accurately call me confused when the results came in.

Then the ever-astute Jackie Salit of the Committee for a Unified Independent Party (CUIP) cleared up my confusion, as she often does, this time in an analysis of the NH primary posted on the CUIP website. Reminding us that independents in NH get to choose whether to vote in the Republican Party primary or the Democratic Party primary, Salit offers this:

The CNN exit polling indicates that Obama got 41% of the independent vote and Hillary 34%. That would mean Obama got the votes of about 50,000 independents and Hillary got about 41,000. Extending this on the RP side, exit polling says McCain got 39% of indies, which would put his total independent vote close to 32,000.

Obama suffered as a result of McCain's independent draw. Polling originally anticipated that 67% to 70% of independents/undeclared would choose Democratic ballots. Obama would have been the beneficiary of that. But McCain succeeded in pulling enough independents out of the DP equation to grab a win for himself as 60% of independents chose to vote DP yesterday, lower than originally expected. Current numbers indicate that Clinton beat Obama by 7,500 votes. That means that if roughly 1-in-4 McCain independents had voted for Obama instead, Obama would have been able to close the gap with Clinton.

Salit goes on to analyze the female vote, speculating that Obama may have received more votes from independent women than Democratic women. That wouldn't surprise me at all; the female independents I know generally favor Obama over Clinton.

The McCain Factor is a fascinating one, really. Maybe independents' well-known opposition to the war in Iraq has tempered a bit, but I doubt it. Maybe his pro-war stance has become of secondary importance in the context of everything else he represents. I don't know. But I do know this: if McCain's popularity in NH can be credited with contributing to Clinton's NH win, we've got some wild ride ahead of us.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Obama's Appeal to Iowa (and Other) Independents

The proof is finally in: independents prefer Obama over Clinton. We already knew that, didn't we? But Iowa proved it, with those independents participating in the Democratic caucus choosing Obama 2 to 1 over Clinton.

One reason for Obama's appeal to independents is, of course, his transpartisan perspective. He's not just willing to cross major-party lines to get things done; he's also willing to bring third parties and independents into the mix. But there's an even stronger reason for independents' support of Obama: instead of just reaching out to us for our votes, he listens to us and seeks our input. By contrast, Clinton treats us as if we're an annoying but necessary evil. She doesn't understand us at all.

Anyway, our good friend E.J. Dionne Jr., in an op-ed piece ("A Whiff of Revolution from Iowa") in today's Washington Post, offers his always spot-on analysis of the Iowa caucus. For independents or anyone who wants to understand their impact on yesterday's vote, it's a must read.

But let's move on to his take on the upcoming New Hampshire primary, from the same article:
Tuesday's New Hampshire primary will have a much larger turnout, and independents -- roughly 40 percent of the potential electorate -- will play a far greater role than they did in Iowa. Until recently, it appeared that independents, who are on the whole alienated from President Bush and his party, would vote in large numbers in this state's Democratic primary, as they did in the Iowa caucuses. This would benefit Obama...[who in NH]was drawing 46 percent of his support from independents, while Clinton drew 33 percent of her backing from voters who did not declare a party affiliation. By coming into New Hampshire strong, Obama may keep independents on the Democratic side. This could hurt McCain, who leans far more heavily on independents than Romney does.

...Democrats, particularly Obama, are fighting for the middle ground and the independents, while Republicans are largely talking to each other.
The Iowa results, especialling Clinton's third-place showing, Giuliani's barely-there outcome, Huckabee's win, and Ron Paul's strong-for-him placement, may help energize us a bit and help us overcome the election fatigue that started to set in, oh, at least six months ago.