New Hampshire's Strategic Voters
10-10-2007
In a recent post, I suggested that John McCain might have difficulty assembling a winning coalition in New Hampshire, due to the defection of independent voters on Iraq, and the loss of conservative voters over immigration reform. I received a thoughtful comment in response, from UCLA professor, Lynn Vavreck.  She speculated on what this scenario might mean for the strategic calculus of New Hampshire’s independent voters, who (as registered undeclared) can vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary.
 
Lynn wrote:
 
If Clinton has the Democratic nomination locked up in NH, the undeclared partisans who you describe above (who lean Democratic this time) may choose to opt out of the Democratic primary (their preferences are realized even if they do not vote) and vote in the Republican primary for the opponent they would prefer second to Hillary if she loses the general. This is a slightly different take on the traditional theory of "strategic voting", in which out-party partisans usually try to hijack the other party's primary to elect the LEAST viable general election opponent. In this case, undeclared partisans are able to ensure their first preference (a Clinton nominee) and avoid maximum regret (a non-McCain Republican president).
 
As Lynn notes, this is a very interesting twist on the traditional notion of strategic swing voting in the New Hampshire primary. For me, it raises two important issues. First, although Clinton has made inroads into this Democratic-leaning independent constituency, that group is still strongly predisposed to Barack Obama, and it would likely take a resounding Clinton win in Iowa for those voters to consider the New Hampshire primary a lock for her. This does not preclude such strategic voting in the other party primary from occurring, but it certainly muddles this scenario a bit, as some independents may be loathe to defect from Obama at the last minute, under all but the most dire circumstances.
 
Second, it is no longer clear that McCain would be the likely first Republican choice of these independents, given his closeness to President Bush on Iraq, and the potential for some of these voters to consider Ron Paul instead, both for his opposition to the war and his libertarian position on social issues.
 
Still, it is a fascinating scenario to consider, and my thanks to Lynn for suggesting it. If you can think of any other interesting strategic voting scenarios, send them in, and I will give them a spin.


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