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Are open primaries a good idea? Depends on who you ask: Primary systems and polarization in light of the Mississippi Senate race

Mississippi’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate was not decided purely by Republican voters. While the specific number of “crossover” votes can be difficult to ascertain, the fact is that turnout in traditionally Democratic areas increased dramatically from the June 3 primary to the June 24 runoff (perk of all that national attention? Fantastic data journalism). It’s also true that incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran’s campaign targeted those voters between his 2nd-place finish to Tea Party-backed challenger Chris McDaniel on June 3 and his victory on June 24.

AP/Politico

AP/Politico

While legal in Mississippi, plenty will say that’s dirty politics. McDaniel certainly felt so. He refused to concede on election night, arguing that “the conservative movement took a backseat to liberal Democrats in Mississippi.”

“Before this race ends,” McDaniel said, “We have to be certain that the Republican primary was won by Republican voters.”

And while I felt McDaniel’s reality-defying non-concession speech only affirmed those who question the ability of ideologues to govern, I also felt a certain degree of sympathy. In the eyes of his supporters (and, to be fair, some of his detractors), his party’s nomination was stolen from him by people who wouldn’t consider themselves part of that party.

Primaries exist so that parties can select their nominee for a particular office. That used to be a decision left to party leaders (via conventions or caucuses), but because of a number of reasons – establishment-bias and corruption chief among them – popular votes through primary elections have become the nominating mechanism of choice. Because of their purpose, many states have closed primaries, meaning that the only people allowed to vote in a party primary are registered members of that party. “Semi-closed” primaries also allow for non-affiliated voters (independents) to participate. (A handy map of state primary rules is available here.)

Mississippi’s primaries are open, meaning that with each new election cycle, voters can choose anew which party’s primary they wish to vote in, regardless of personal political affiliation. In the case of the Cochran-McDaniel runoff, anyone who voted in the Democratic primary on June 3 was ineligible to vote in the Republican runoff (they already made their choice this cycle). But everyone else, including registered Democrats who stayed home on June 3, could participate.

Cristiano Ronaldo is confident you don’t want to play against him. // Jorge Silva, Reuters

Political scientists question just how often open primaries lead to strategic voting, and whether the effect is anything but marginal (see references below). Even the notion that open primaries moderate candidate choice – the reason many states adopted them – doesn’t have much empirical support. But on its face, it doesn’t quite jive with the intent of a primary. To use a timely, though imperfect illustration, imagine if World Cup rosters were selected by the rest of the world, including fans of opposing teams that also want to win. Would Americans want Cristiano Ronaldo to be part of the Portuguese squad? Would anyone other than the Portuguese? Probably not. Fortunately, only a coach with firm ties to Portugal selects that nation’s team, and he wants to field the best players possible.

However, that is not what crossover voters did in the Mississippi Senate race. They didn’t sabotage the primary by lending support to the candidate they were most likely to beat in a general election… that would have been McDaniel, hands down. So why did liberal voters want a Republican nominee that Democrats can’t beat? Read the rest of this entry

#MSsen and the art of the modified tweet

It’s election day again in Mississippi, where the nation’s most interesting midterm race heads for a runoff. The contest between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel matches a 41-year Capitol Hill veteran who brings home pork for the poorest state in the union against a 41-year-old Tea Party conservative riding the wave of anti-government, anti-establishment, anti-Obama sentiment.

National political reporters have had their eye on Mississippi for a few weeks now, producing some interesting reads. I enjoyed BuzzFeed’s investigative reporting in the digital age, connecting dots between McDaniel’s campaign, a blogger who broke into Cochran’s wife’s nursing home, and Wikipedia edits. The Washington Post explored the popularity of Tea Party fiscal conservatives in states that benefit most from liberal federal spending. The Upshot, essentially the New York Times’ Nate Silver-less FiveThirtyEight, used Mississippi as a case study for what extremely partisan electorates do to the election process.

This blog post is not about any of that, really. It’s more of an aside from the primary three weeks ago, and it has to do with language. More specifically, language in the Twitter age.

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[Video] Did ESPN commentators call Mississippians poor?

Mississippians are passionate about our state. We know more about our famous alumni than most colleges. We celebrate our successes in spite (or because) of our status as the perennial underdog. And that means that when someone on the national stage disparages Mississippi, we attack… like Bulldogs, perhaps.

Midway through the first game of the College World Series finals, social media simmered with reports that the ESPN broadcast had taken at shot at the poorest state in the nation:

Even the university got in on the action:

 

I’ve reviewed the tape; here’s what was said:

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Where was the end when we needed it?

After all of the campaigning, all of the political posturing, all of the polling and remarkably reality-defying punditry, all of the… noise, the election finally happened. In its wake, we saw the worst of people on social media. I counted a few particularly rogue Facebook statuses that had been deleted by Wednesday. A handful of dumb students reflected poorly on the University of Mississippi.

The whole thing makes us crazy. But credit Governor Romney and President Obama, because perhaps the greatest moments of a multi-year campaign came at its end.

This is a time of great challenges for America, and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation […] Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work, and we citizens also have to rise to occasion […] [W]e look to Democrats and Republicans in government at all levels to put the people before the politics. – Mitt Romney, Concession

I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.

And together with your help and God’s grace we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on Earth. – Barack Obama, Acceptance

How gracious in defeat was the governor? How re-energized and inspiring was the president? With the burden of the campaign finally removed from each man’s shoulders, we saw what we had been looking for the entire time. In the fog of war, divide and conquer was the master plan, when we the people were looking for sense and civility all along.

Calls for unity. Calls for effort from citizen and servant alike. Calls for prayer. The invocation of God, for one night, not a political province of the right but a hope for one nation.

Maybe it won’t last. Probably it won’t last. But on the night when so many Democrats were gloating and so many Republicans were forecasting the fall of Rome, Mitt Romney’s campaign website was streaming Barack Obama’s acceptance speech in a simple gesture of solidarity. And so, on Election Night, this disaffected voter watched two men emerge from battle, wondering where philosophies like these were one week earlier, and what will have happened to them one week later.

Gingrich, Romney, Santorum visit Mississippi, vie for hotly contested Southern delegates

Mississippi rarely receives much attention from candidates in presidential elections. After all, there’s usually little doubt as to the inclinations of the most conservative state in the union. Furthermore, with its primary scheduled after Super Tuesday, party nominees usually have been all but officially accepted by the time the Magnolia State rolls around.

2012 is different. While Mitt Romney is a clear frontrunner in the Republican primary, he still faces three opponents, one of whom needs Mississippi (and Alabama) to clearly delineate himself from his rivals, and one of whom needs Mississippi (and Alabama) to preserve any credibility as to why he is still in the race. That’s why Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich all visited Mississippi the week prior to the primary.

All three men made stops in Jackson. I managed to see two of them in person – Santorum and Romney – while collecting a handful of reliable reports on the Gingrich events. As polls show a tight race going into the primary, each candidate used a different strategy to court voters.

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