Party’s Over – Why Party Affiliation Should be Left Aside This Election (and others)


By JOSHUA ZAKHAROV || August 10, 2016

Pundits and analysts like to classify the patterns of voters under four main categories – ideologues, nature-of-the-times voters, party ID voters, and character voters. The first votes based on a candidate’s policies and platform, without regard to things like character or affiliations. The second votes based on what a candidate has done for them lately – if they’ve lost their job, if they feel their taxpayer dollars are misspent, then the incumbent has to go. The third usually casts a straight ballot for all the candidates of their party, voting almost solely on partisanship. The fourth votes based on how a candidate looks, acts, interacts with others – “because s/he seems ‘presidential,’ they get my vote.”

Guess the most popular voting pattern in the United States, governing the behavior of nearly 40% of the hundred-plus million Americans voting each year. It’s not the ideologue pattern (naïve guess – that’s only about 10%); it’s not nature-of-the-times; and it’s not character. It’s party-ID. Though it might seem reasonable at first glance, this is likely the most damaging ideology behind casting a ballot, and could be what tips the election in the favor of a megalomaniac this year.

Let me say first that this isn’t meant to be a pointless hot take, and certainly not an attack on people who back their party’s candidate without a second thought. Provided that the platform established at a party’s convention is one that’s in line with your principles, and that candidates are reasonable, pragmatic people that seek to effect that platform, voting for your party rather than your candidate is a solid choice.

But not every candidate fits the mold of their party, and that’s why casting a ballot for a candidate before their party is an important consideration. Most of the time, voting for your party is safe. Candidates are, more often than not, people that live up to the principles of their party, have a record of defending them, and focus on practicality and compromise in office. In times of political turmoil, such as those before critical elections, however, party ideology and principles become less important than choosing a candidate above political affiliation that can deal with a country’s issues.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1932 win over Hoover, for example, moved Democrats much further left than they had ever gone with New Deal social welfare reforms, even while the Democratic party continued to represent white Southerners above all else. In doing so, Roosevelt was able to build up a new Democratic voting coalition that would reelect him three times; his shaking up of traditional party politics proved effective during the Great Depression and spurred millions of voters to cast party aside to vote for the functional candidate over Hoover, who presided over the start of the Great Depression.

Ronald Reagan’s critical election and reelection in 1980 and 1984, to bring up a Republican example, were also able to shuffle traditional voting patterns. After demonstrating strong leadership during the Cold War and convincing Americans that Reaganomics could work, Reagan was able to win 49 (49!) states in his reelection, changing nearly every blue state but his opponent (Walter Mondale’s) home state to a red one.

As Hillary Clinton put it in her acceptance speech, we face a moment of reckoning this November. The economic success of our current president is undeniable, with his center-left economics from the stimulus package to infrastructure funding having made our economy rebound since the Great Recession in 2008. Unemployment is lower now than it was under Reagan, relations with Cuba and Iran have been normalized, and dozens of progressive goals have been realized by our Supreme Court. Clinton promises to build even higher on Obama’s goals, spending more on infrastructure, reshaping a Supreme Court to deal with the corruption of campaign finance regulations and the now-banal reality of gun violence.

Even if these are goals you disagree with, they are still real, clear-cut, nuanced, and understandable policy positions. Donald Trump has none. After refusing to disavow the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan, after demonizing Muslims, Mexicans, black youth, America’s disabled, after accusing a Gold Star mother stricken with grief of not speaking because her Muslim faith prevented her from doing so, after claiming the Constitution had 12 articles and people had “no right” to say things he disagreed with, after spurning free trade deals that passed with bipartisan support, after exporting jobs from the US for his own gain, after claiming police deaths have gone up 50% from last year when there’s been one fewer death, it is clear that not only does Trump lack a basic understanding of the state of our nation, but that he lacks a basic understanding of the principles of his party.

This is no longer the party of John McCain, a man who, in his 2008 election, pointed out that Obama is a God-loving Christian and a family man, and disagreed with him only politically. This is no longer the party of Mitt Romney, who championed his party’s platform to the letter, and this is certainly no longer the party of Ronald Reagan.

This is a party being led astray from its original principles of keeping government small, not tyrannical against minorities, of protecting individual liberties rather than stripping them away, of abiding by the Constitution rather than never having read it.

If you’re a Republican, and you’re voting for whomever your party has selected for this general election, make sure you think twice – you might not even be voting for a Republican at all.

Josh Zakharov is a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science and an incoming freshman at the University of Chicago.

Ethan Gelfer contributed editing. 

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