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Closed Primaries and the Lieberman Effect
Joe Lieberman is certainly not a conservative. He is barely a "moderate" in this new Era where the definition of a "moderate" is someone that does not believe Bush and Cheney to have started a war for oil, Haliburton to be the root of all evil, and the Bush administration to be behind the collapse of the twin towers. But Lieberman stands behind the invasion of Iraq. And as of yesterday, he is no longer a member of the Democratic Party.
What happened in Connecticut is this--of the entire registered voter population, 33% are registered Democrats. Of those Registered Democrats, approximately 45% actually came to the polls and voted. And of those, Lamont was able to get 52% to vote for him. That means that 52% of 45% of 33% = approximately 7.7% of the total voters in Connecticut determined the candidate for the Democratic Party. Let's break that down a little bit. Of the 2M registered voters in Connecticu, 702,000 are registered Democrats. Less than 350,000 voted. Of those who voted, Lamont won by 52-48%, by 10,000 votes.
We have a two party system where there is no middle ground in part because primaries allow both parties to elect candidates that represent their ideological bases, and further, that represent the most appealing candidate to the small segment of the population that votes in the primary. The 15% of the total registered voters that vote in primaries are usually not the fence leaning moderates. Daily Kos and the far left may not control the majority of any particullar electorate, but they certainly can appeal to the most active and radical 10% of the far left wing of the Democratic Party. And when motivated in a primary, these folks can control the party. If you want to win primaries, you better pander to Daily Kos. That means not compromising one inch on your hatred of ChimpyMcHitlerBurton. That means being a Progressive and a Liberal and a Pacifist. Again, that means running as far left of center as possible. If the Radical left controls just 10% of the total registered voters in Connecticut, this percentage was sufficient to throw out Lieberman.
This is a dangerous precedent for the Democratic Party, just as consistently electing ideologues like Pat Buchanan would be for the Republicans. Or electing someone like Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell or Rush or Hannity or Ann Coulter. And trust me, these folks could win primaries. Just not the general elections. And again, that is the problems the Democrats face. Candidates such as Lamont do not have national appeal. Candidates from California and Massachussets and now Connecticut are at the helm of the Party. What is gained in fear and motivation for the existing members of the Party that now are scared to death to cross Kos and Moveon is lost by the offset voters that are scared by the new faces of the party and the new agenda.
But why are we sitting debating whether Joe Lieberman signals the end of the Democratic Party, etc., or acting like Lamont is a far left wing radical that is unprecedented when the Democratic Party Apparatus has been taken over by Howard Dean and when Dennis Kucinich actually got votes in the Democratic Primaries in 2004. Democrats are now held hostage by closed primaries where 52% of 45% of 33% of the voters in a state can throw an incumbent out of office. It is clearly an indication of the way the closed primary system works. Independants do not count and in Connecticut and often do not count nationwide. There is no third party. And as the Democratic Party moves from center-left toward the far left, the middle ground and room for compromise in DC is disappearing. And consequently, the room to attract moderate voters in Red and "purple" states is also disappearing.
This is not our war as Republicans. This is a civil war much like Iraq is "supposed" to turn into. This is a Quagmire. The Democratic Party has huge potential for implosion because of the competing factions within it. How does big labor reconcile their need for high paying jobs with the environmental wing? How about the race baiting wing? The anti-WTO, Communist wing reconcile with the slightly business friendly wing? We have seen that the Progressive Radical Left can influence Primaries. They can influence the direction of the Democratic Party. Now it remains to be seen if this change in the Democratic Party can influence the direction of entire elections or of the nation.
Updated because I realized that not only can't I type, but I am incoherent before my morning coffee.
Further update. A second set of eyes at Say Anything (thanks Rob) asked me to clarify the percentages again. I fixed the grammer and spelling. I think my wife dropped me on my head last night because I am barely literate today.
Posted by Justin B. · 9 August 2006 11:41 AM
I would argue that closed primaries are good for the American style of Democracy.
Posted by: Izzy at August 10, 2006 11:05 AM
If you like a two party system. But our current system is one of deadlocks and partisan fighting.
So what you are saying is that people should not be able to openly vote who should be the top two candidates for office in the general election? That some small percentage should determine who can and can't run in November?
I don't know, but that does not sound very democratic.
Posted by: Justin B at August 10, 2006 11:49 AM
Thanks for the contribution. I've been listening and reading about this and the MSM and NPR have never mentioned that this was a closed primary, much less the numbers. The numbers explain, I suppose, why Lieberman is running as an independent. It would be interesting to examine States primary systems to see if there's a correlation between "Closed Primaries" and the "Blueness" of the State. Arguments can be made for both Open and Closed Primaries, but my suspicion is that Closed Primaries are prefered by the Democratic Party. It would also be interesting to see if there's a significant difference between the two systems in terms of overall voter turnout in general elections. I would think it discouraging for Independents to operate in Closed Primary States because they have no control over who the candidates are, thus I'd think that in Closed Primary States there might be lower turnout in general elections. That may not be true, there may be no correlation whatsoever, but I've observed frustration over the City elections, which though they are supposed to be non-partisan, are nonetheless dominated by one party and the candidates appear to be the "party" chosen people.
Posted by: Ed at August 10, 2006 02:15 PM
Posted by: Justin B at August 11, 2006 02:51 PM