If you watch Idaho election-night television, you may have seen a Democratic candidate at the Democrat’s Boise party, surrounded by Democrats, eating food Democratic contributors are paying for, state emphatically, “I am not a Democrat.”
Yes, Idaho Democrats have had candidates who’ve made being Democratic seem something to be ashamed of.
They claim to be moderates–neither conservative nor liberal–but supporters of reason and compromise.
To know how party activists think about this, remember that 78 percent of Idahoans attending the 2016 Democratic presidential caucus supported Bernie Sanders–who isn’t known for either moderation or compromise. (In Washington, Sanders got 75 percent of caucus votes but, when three times as many Democrats turned out for the primary, his support fell to 46 percent.)
Many Idaho Democratic leaders search for moderate, middle-of-the road candidates–then convince activists to keep working by pointing out that, as a minority, the party can’t win without votes from independents..
Polls vary over time, but the partisan breakdown here is roughly Republicans, 35 percent; Democrats, 20; Independents, 20; and Other, 25.
Vote tallies are also lopsided; Idaho’s 2016 presidential vote was 59 percent Republican and 28 percent Democratic.
Activists do argue that wishy-washy candidates mean fewer volunteers, less enthusiasm, and a poor turnout on election day. Still, most see a little gain as better than none–and get to work.
The results haven’t been great.
A March report by the Pew Research Center reveals why.
Democrats have assumed that independents were moderates; a majority of those who identify as independents see themselves that way.
The Pew polls indicate, however, that most “independents” support one party nearly as strongly as those who identify as partisans.
Independents may disagree with a party or distrust its leaders and still vote for it.
The Pew polls indicate that, although 38 percent of those of voting age self-identify as Independents, they break into three groups–those who won’t vote Republican (17 percent of voters); those who won’t vote Democratic (13 percent); and those who are willing to split their vote (seven percent).
And half of those willing to split their vote say they didn’t bother to vote in 2018.
Unfortunately, the Research Center didn’t break figures down by states. Still, some results may be helpful to Idahoans.
For one, Democrats nationwide are less likely to get out to vote than Republicans. Six percent fewer self-proclaimed Democrats and 17 percent fewer Independents who lean Democrat register and show up.
Serious voter recruitment may be the most effective option available to Idaho Democrats–it won’t be easy. Many have tried.
Another finding–the Pew polls indicate that Republicans are vulnerable on some issues. A majority of Republicans oppose gay marriage, but 58 percent of independents who vote Republican support it. The numbers favoring legalizing marijuana are nearly identical.
There’s little division between Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, however, when it comes to supporting Trump, the Wall, the 2017 tax cuts, and tariffs.
Yet, being okay with tax cuts and tariffs, doesn’t mean Republican-leaning independents don’t believe that the U.S. economic system unfairly favors the powerful.
Is there a way to attack the concentration of economic power without alienating those who support tax cuts and tariffs?
Maybe–but I don’t see it.
Would promoting progressive candidates and harnessing the full power of Democratic activists get more Idaho Democrats elected?
Statewide, the numbers are not good–still, change tends to come district by district.
And it seems on its way in the Boise Valley.
Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019