Independents on Super Tuesday

In the early primaries both Barack Obama and John McCain have benefited from votes from independents in states where they are allowed to vote in the party primaries. I’ve seen a number of articles claiming that they would lose this advantage as the upcoming primaries are closed, but not it appears this does not entirely apply on Super Tuesday. AP reports:

More than half the states holding presidential contests next month on Super Tuesday allow unaffiliated voters to participate, giving millions of independents a chance to shape what is usually an insider affair among Democratic and Republican loyalists.

Two of those states, California and New Jersey, together have nearly 6 million unaffiliated voters who will be allowed to cast ballots. Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts and Alabama are among other prized catches with millions of independents eligible for the Feb. 5 contests…

Fifteen of the 24 states holding contests on Super Tuesday have some form of flexible voting system. Some are wide open, allowing voters to cast ballots in either party regardless of political affiliation. Others have semi-open primaries, allowing unaffiliated voters to participate if they register with a party on the day of the primary.

Obama could get the biggest boost, analysts said, because independents appear to be leaning toward Democrats this year…

The ranks of unaffiliated voters have grown steadily since the 1960s. Experts estimate that about one in five eligible voters nationally are independents. But the figure is difficult to pin down because many states don’t require voter registration by party, and many voters who call themselves independents lean strongly toward one party.

Among states with partisan registration, percentages vary widely.

California’s 3 million unaffiliated voters account for about 19 percent of the state’s total registered. In New Jersey, some 2.8 million are unaffiliated, well over half. Kansas and Massachusetts, two other Super Tuesday states with flexible primary rules, have 447,634 (27 percent) and 2 million (50 percent) unaffiliated voters, respectively.

I’m also not convinced that candidates who appeal to independents won’t do as well in states which do not allow independents to vote in primaries. Independents who are motivated to vote in party primaries might be more likely to take action to ensure they can vote in other states. I bet that many people will register as independents in states where this is an option but register as a member of the party they vote for the most often if this is the only way to vote in a primary. I suspect that states which do not allow independents to vote in party primaries have a larger number of people registered as members of a party who vote more similarly to the independent voters, and such voters will still tend to vote more for Obama and McCain. One important factor might be the ease of registering to vote in a party primary for new voters who desire to vote for Obama. It will be interesting to see if there is a major difference in the primary results based upon whether independents can vote.

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. 1
    Mike P says:

    I live in California and if I understand things correctly, independents here can vote in the Dem. primary, but not the Republican one. That is a huge boost for Obama and it will probably hurt McCain quite a bit.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    That might make a difference but I’m not sure how much. How many people are really considering both Obama and McCain and will vote for Obama because the Democratic primary is the only one they can vote in?

    Many independents vote with one party the majority of the time. I wonder if such independents who tend to vote Republican have registered as Republicans while independents who vote Democratic might remain registered as independents. I wonder if the data to analyze such questions is out there and if anyone has taken a good look at this. Perhaps data on how independents typically vote in the general election would shed some light on this. It might be interesting to see if Obama picks up a good number of independent votes and if McCain does worse than in other states due to not allowing independents to vote.

  3. 3
    biwah says:


    It sounds pretty big to me. Many independents who might have voted for McCain will instead vote for Obama, many of them merely as an anti-Clinton vote. Anti-Clinton voters in the pool of independents will have no other contest to distract them from voting their disdain.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Possibly, assuming that there really are a sizable number of independents who move from party to party in different years as opposed to generally being affiliated with one party. I still wonder how many independent voters are truly independent, and how many tend to vote for one party and only register as independent if this option allows them to vote in their preferred primary.

    I’m sure that there are both types of independents, so the question is how many of each.

Leave a comment