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The 2012 Election and Independents

Where do the independents stand now? It’s hard to say, but let’s take a look at the primary structure this year, courtesy of FairVote.org.

Breakdown: Number of Open, Closed, and Semi-Closed Primaries in the 2012 Cycle.

Party Open Closed Semi-Closed
Democrats

22

21

8

Republicans

17

27

7

Independents can only vote in open primaries, semi-closed, but not closed. Open primaries allow anyone to vote on any candidate. “Semi-closed” independents may vote in either party, but a registered party member may not vote for any other party’s candidates. Closed primaries allow only voters registered for that party to vote for that party’s candidates.

Although party establishments “generally dislike open primaries,” they are extremely helpful in getting independents out to vote.

It’s no secret: the independent vote is up for grabs. Without the independent vote, neither President Barack Obama or his Republican challenger can win the election. In fact, according to a Gallup Poll taken in 2012, self-identifying independents comprise the biggest political demographic. There have been more independents than Republicans or Democrats almost every time Gallup has surveyed the country since July 2009.
These voters are becoming aware of their clout—and party members are noticing.

Now that more and more states have open primaries from their previous election cycle, operations are abounding for cross-party ‘sabotaging.’ For example: Rick Santorum had yet to beat President Obama in a national poll. Because of this, Democrats in North Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, and especially Michigan (Romney’s home state as a childhood that he nearly lost), organized to vote for Rick Santorum, knowing that President Obama will be the nominee without their vote. The Daily Kos rationalized that operation saying the scheme was “freaking hilarious. I mean, Rick Santorum? Really? The Republicans have offered up this big, slow, juicy softball. Let’s have fun whacking the heck out of it.” The operation was not a success in Michigan, where the stakes were the highest, but this may not be the last time we see this in a presidential election.

Right now, independents voting in the Republican primary are leaning toward Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, with the youth vote largely going toward the latter. In 2011, independent support for the President was waning. The pendulum has since swung back in the President’s favor—but whether he will grab enough of their votes for the general election relies exclusively on whether the economic recovery gains steam.

References

Bower, Robert. “Public Opinion Polls and the Politician.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science , Vol. 259, Parties and Politics: 1948 (Sep., 1948), pp. 104-112. Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. in association with the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org.proxyau.wrlc.org/stable/1026315

Chapin, F. Stuart. “The Variability of the Popular Vote at Presidential Elections.” American Journal of Sociology , Vol. 18, No. 2 (Sep., 1912), pp. 222-240. Published by: The University of Chicago Press. Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org.proxyau.wrlc.org/stable/2762862

Ogburn, William F. and Jaffe, Abe J. “Independent Voting in Presidential Elections.”  American Journal of Sociology , Vol. 42, No. 2 (Sep., 1936), pp. 186-201. Published by: The University of Chicago Press. Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org.proxyau.wrlc.org/stable/2768784

“Congressional and Presidential Primaries: Open, Closed, Semi-Closed, and ‘Top Two.’” 2011. http://www.fairvote.org/congressional-and-presidential-primaries-open-closed-semi-closed-and-top-two#.T4T0mftSSa9

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