O’Neill, the Boston Democrat who ruled the House while Ronald Reagan was president, said, “All politics is local.” At its root, this referred to how members of Congress needed the skills to take care of the wishes of their local districts if they wanted to hang onto a seat.
That’s no longer true. Today, all politics is national. Voters increasingly care most about whether a candidate supports the current president, or whether he or she adheres to strict party principles.
Local issues? Who cares?
Several studies bear this out. The political website fivethirtyeight.com (named for the number of people in Congress) looked at the 2018 midterm election and found that, in 16 of 21 states with both a race for governor and the Senate, voters chose both from the same party.
Geoffrey Skelley, who did the study, looked at the differences in the margins of victory in these races and compared them to the vote shares of each party, then compared the results to previous elections.
“It turns out that 2018 is part of a trend that shows fewer Americans are splitting their tickets (at least in races for the Senate and governors in midterm elections),” he said. “This election had the smallest median difference of any midterm cycle going back to at least 1990 — 10 points.”
Writing for vox.com four years ago, Jeff Stein said every state that voted for Trump also elected a Republican senator, and every state that went for Hillary Clinton elected a Democratic senator. He noted this had never happened before, dating to 1913, when people first were allowed to elect senators.
Professor Steven Rogers of Saint Louis University has done a study showing this trend goes far beyond senators and governors. It affects state legislative races, as well.
People are more likely to vote against a legislative candidate if that person disapproved of the president, by a factor of 40%, he found. A voter’s feelings for the president were more than three times more important for the success of a legislative candidate than the voter’s feelings about the Legislature, itself.
That study was done before Donald Trump became president. My guess is the trend has accelerated.
You may argue that Utah’s fourth congressional district swung to a Democrat last year despite the president’s relative popularity here, but that outcome probably was reflective of feelings toward the White House in that district. A Utah Policy analysis found 65,761 people voted straight-ticket Democratic in the fourth district, while the straight-ticket Republican vote was only 51,607.
Despite the ironies, however, there are good reasons to support HB70, the bill that would remove straight-ticket voting as a ballot option in Utah. The best of these is that, according to experts who spoke at a recent committee hearing, straight-ticket voting hurts the non-partisan races that tend to be at the bottom of the ballot.
Apparently, a lot of voters who mark the straight-ticket box think they are done. They don’t cast votes for non-partisan school board candidates. They don’t decide whether to retain judges and they don’t vote on ballot propositions or proposed constitutional amendments.
Weber County Clerk Ricky Hatch said some people believe the box is there only for you to declare your party preference.
Straight-ticket voting hearkens back to a time in the 19th century when almost all voting was done along party lines. But it may seem to fit today’s fast-paced world where convenience is king. Why not make voting as easy and quick as possible?
Because it’s too important, that’s why.
Today, especially in Utah, where most voting is done by mail, voters have privacy and the time to do research before marking their ballots. If they’re going to follow a nationwide trend and vote for everyone by party only, it isn’t a bad thing to make them do so one race at a time.