Civic Engagement Elections NDP Nebraska Politics

Democratic Party Switches and Publicly Flogging the Low Hanging Fruit

There have been some stories (see here and here) recently about Democratic voters in Nebraska switching their party registration to vote in the Republican primary. While the mainstream media has reported some raw numbers on possible switches, they do a piss poor job of putting these numbers into context. Are basic statistics too much to expect in a news story?

So I looked at the SOS website to get a sense of how much this is actually happening and question whether it has an actual impact on Democratic candidates in November. Here is the data for voter registration by party.

Unlike the two articles cited above, we look at changes in party affiliation from January to May. Since the beginning of the year, the Democratic party lost 8097 registered voters while over the same time period the Republican party gained 8456. Not all of those are party switchers obviously and at least some of the increase for Republican party is Independent and other party affiliation switches.

That 8000 represents about 2.2% of registered Democrats in Nebraska. And remember, most Dem party switches will switch back after the primary.

Let’s put this into perspective by looking at the last primary without an incumbent governor, 2014. Here are the comparable 2014 voter registration and primary election results.

First of all, the raw number of voters is pretty goddamn similar in 8 years for both parties. There are right around 555,000 R and 345,000 D give or take in any of these eight years.

But in the last open primary where there was no incumbent governor, 40.4% of registered Republicans voted. And recall that in the six-person race, the difference between Ricketts and second place Bruning was about 2,000 votes, or 1% of Republicans who voted.

What was voter turnout in 2014 for Democrats? A dismal 21.7%.

So what is my point? There are numerous examples of Democrats who hold or who have held powerful positions in the party whining and moaning about party Democrats switching parties. Usually, they have some vague argument about how vote totals in the primary impact the general election because it impacts the narrative and fundraising. Seeing Red Nebraska calls bullshit.

If the Democratic party in Nebraska wants to change the narrative and impact fundraising perhaps the strategy should be to target the ~80% of Democratic voters who don’t turn out to vote in the primaries at all. Of course that requires getting them more choices and getting them excited to vote in the primaries. We have all seen the Dem primary ballot and despite some amazing candidates, there aren’t a lot of choices and in many cases there are none (including no candidates for some of the most important seats in the state, including Attorney General and Secretary of State). Or another option might be registering new voters. I have an 18-year-old who registered to vote recently and as a busy college student preparing for finals, this was not on her radar if not for me. Where are the voter drives? She is an easy Dem pickup and I bet there are many in the state that are her age who are just like her.

What seems like the least effective tactic to increase Dem primary voter totals in the entire world? Publicly blaming and shaming the 2% of party switchers. And yes, full disclosure, I 100% switched my party registration to Republican back in February to vote in their primary. Why? Because 8,000 Dems voting in the Republican primary may actually make a difference if 2,000 votes decided it in 2014. And if I could go back in time and vote for anyone but Ricketts I think a lot would be different in Nebraska today. And while all three candidates fucking suck compared to Carol Blood (who will 100% get my vote in November), the least of these three evils is clearly Lindstrom. But I am in the tiny minority — most registered Democrats either aren’t voting at all in the primaries or are sticking with their current party affiliation and voting for great candidates in the Dem primary.

I will concede one point because I can math, however. Eight thousand voters in a primary where only 14% (or 80,000) Democrats show up to vote is closer to 10% of Dem primary voters. And we generally are the type of folks who would vote in the Dem primary regardless of the half-empty ballot. But I question how effective it is to publicly whine and complain about us, blaming us for everything including the most recent leaked Roe v. Wade decision (I shit you not, I saw a post where this is somehow our fault . . . ). Instead it might be more effective to not air this discontent publicly and to just quietly accept the reality that we can math and some of us want our votes to literally count this May. I mean how delightful would it be if Lindstrom won and all of these idiots calling him a liberal socialist have to plug their nose and vote for him and eat their words? That alone is worth it to me, but I am petty. I am also in the tiny minority and I respect that switching parties to vote in the primary isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. You do you, switches are gonna switch, and let’s all work to get Dems voted in after May 10th.

The public whining isn’t a good look, especially if the all-important narrative impacts fundraising and Democratic turnout is so low generally in primaries. This rhetoric isn’t registering Democrats to vote and it isn’t getting the 80% of Dems already registered to turnout for the primary. I understand that switchers are low-hanging fruit, but publicly flogging us on social media looks pathetic and bitter. And that isn’t the narrative that is going to help Dems fundraise or win in November either.