The 2012 GOP presidential primary in MI is a picture-perfect example for proponents of closed primaries and for that matter closed Caucuses.
If exit polls from the race are to be believed than just more than 9% of the electorate in the primary was Democratic and they went 50%-15% for Santorum over Romney. Doing the math that means that Santorum got a 4% boost from Democrats and Romney slightly over 1%. This mitigated Romney’s commanding 49%-36% lead among Republicans who made up over 60% of the electorate.
But the exit polls also tell us a story of who bankrolled the effort. Of the 12% of the electorate that identified as belonging to a union Satorum cruised to an easy 45%-27% win among them. Among those who knew somebody else who does Santorum cruised. Romney won the 77% of voters who did not know nor identify as a union member. This suggests unions pushed heavily for their members to vote that day in the GOP Primary.
Santorm’s support in MI came from the most supportive of the Tea Party and those who most oppose it. Likewise he won the most conservative voters and yet somehow won the most liberal voters. He also ironically won atheists as well as evangelical, white christians. Despite his strong Catholic faith Romney won Catholics. Think Democrats meddled in the GOP primary?
These exit polls present a perfect case for those in the GOP opposed to open primaries or caucuses to close their primaries. Since last year several states, including Idaho, have taken the steps of either closing their primaries or caucuses to outside members. Some state parties have hedged and created semi-open primaries, like PA in 2007, to allow independents and partisanly identified voters to participate. Bu even this is a half measure to opponents of open systems. They would likely point to PA as a bad example as many voters have shifted from Republican and Democrat and back to Republican to vote in contested primaries.
Proponents of open systems argue that cross-over voting rarely occurs. But the MI and PA examples above argue the opposite. Moreover supporters of open systems argue closing their primaries or caucuses disenfranchises millions of right or left leaning independents. In a strange twist, they try to appeal to state parties by arguing it is against their partisan interest to close their primaries. Not only could the party/s annoy left/right leaning independents if they cannot nominate their preferred party’ candidate but the nominee might be so far to the right or left he only appeals to partisans. Yet at the end of the day parties exist only to win and that means to appeal to partisan interests.
Charles C Johnson, who wrote an interesting piece at Andrew Breitbert’s (god rest his soul) Big Government website had a different take. He does not weigh in on the merits of a close or open system. Rather, he looks at th vote totals from Congressional Districts (MI allocates delegates by who wins them) and finds that despite Romney winning self-identified Republicans49%-36%, th PVI (Partisan Voting Index) of the districts Romney won were D+2. By contrast the PVI of the districts Santoum won were R+2. Though Johnson does not come out and say it he infers that the belief tha 9% of the electorate was Democratic is flawed and he uses the PVI of the districts Romny won (7 of 14) to Santorum’s (6 of 14) to prove it.
Despite this interesting view and those who support open primaries or caucuses the stats are against them. More and more often one political party is starting to dabble in the affairs of the other party through meddling in the nominating process. Furthermore, semi-open systems, like that in PA, have not stopped cross-over voting in primaries, despite the extra hurdle partisan voters have to overcome to do so. Open primaries or caucuses are not going to go away anytime soon, but don’t be surprised to see more and more state parties close their primaries and caucuses, especially when they have such damning evidence from states like MI and PA about why they are doing so.