September 20, 2015

Who Decides U.S. Presidential Elections?

William Jennings Bryan, Democratic pa...
William Jennings Bryan, Democratic party presidential candidate, standing on stage next to American flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I would guess - and this is a very rough guess indeed - that somewhere around 45% of voters in the U.S. are what we might describe as reliable Republicans in the sense that they will reliably vote for whichever Republican presidential candidate their party fields every four years. I'd guess that there are another roughly 45% of voters who could be described as reliable Democrats for the same reason. They too can be counted on to vote for whoever their party nominates for president. That leaves us with approximately 10% who do not fall into either of these groups. Again, I have no idea if 10% is the right number. Maybe it is 20%, or maybe it is only 5%.

Just who are these 10% (or however many there are)? Some of them might vote for the Democratic candidate in one election and the Republican candidate in another. They move back and forth between the two major parties based on a variety of factors we do not understand particularly well. Others vote for either the Democratic candidate or the Republican candidate in some elections and vote for third party candidates in other elections. They don't tend to cross over from one major party to the other but may cross between one major party and one or more third parties.

This group, rightly or wrongly, is often credited with deciding our presidential elections. If it is true that the numbers of reliable Republican voters on one side and reliable Democratic voters on the other are roughly equivalent, then I suppose this makes some sense. The reliable voters of each of the two main parties would sort of cancel each other out. And if few reliable Republicans or reliable Democrats will be swayed to stray from their party, that seems to suggest that most of the action is on those who do not belong to either group.

I belong to this middle sort of group in that I sometimes vote for the Democratic candidate and sometimes vote for a third-party candidate. It has been many years since I gave serious consideration to voting for a Republican candidate for president in the general election. These days, I doubt that any Republican candidate I'd be able to support in the general election could survive the Republican primary process.

Believe it or not, I think that is unfortunate. I think we'd all benefit from having the best possible candidates emerging from both parties. The only way I can imagine us getting to that point would be if candidates start campaigning on the issues and their plans for solving problems rather than the overblown rhetoric aimed at manipulating voters' emotions or the less-than-factual narrative of their party. Unfortunately, it seems like this is becoming a bit less common in every election.