Editorial: What the split ticket really says
In a perfect world, the split-ticket voter would represent the evolution of democracy. Can you imagine if everybody chose candidates based not on party affiliation or how loudly they deliver talking points but on competence, intelligence and honesty?
Historically, New Hampshire has split the ticket quite often. From 1908 to 2012, presidential and U.S. Senate ballots were split seven out of 16 times in the state, according to Smart Politics, a news site associated with the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. That’s a percentage of 43.8, which puts New Hampshire seventh on the list of states most likely to vote for candidates from different parties on Election Day.
Now here’s the bad news.
According to a study by Lynn Vavreck, a professor of political science at UCLA, the reality of the split-ticket voter represents something far different than the height of democracy.
“The single best predictor of cross-party voting,” Vavreck wrote in the New York Times on May 25, “is still how much you know about politics: the less you know, the more you vote for two parties.”
One would think that New Hampshire, headquarters of retail politics, would be an outlier in Vavreck’s study, but that’s not the case.
In fact, a February study by Andrew Smith and Zachary Azem of the UNH Survey Center found that a close look at the New Hampshire breed of ticket-splitters known as independent voters supports Vavreck’s findings.
In the statewide survey, only 37 percent of self-described independent voters were able to correctly name the two U.S. senators from New Hampshire, while 44 percent of Republicans and 43 percent of Democrats were able to accomplish the feat. While those numbers aren’t exactly great for Republicans and Democrats either, it’s clear that an openness to candidates from both parties can often mean a voter is simply apathetic.
Dante Scala, associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, said the independent voter as “the embodiment of the thoughtful citizen” is an enduring myth in New Hampshire. The perception, Scala said, is that so-called independent voters are mainly interested in choosing the best person for the job, but more often than not they are using the word “independent” when they mean uninterested.
The fact is, partisan voters truly are more knowledgeable – which is understandable but also kind of a shame. A candidate should have to do much more than toe the party line in order to win in election.
There is a way, however, for voters of all stripes to help craft a better political system. They can start by spending some time online getting to know the people who represent them in Washington and Concord. They can make an effort to understand the legislative process. They can explore the issues that mean the most to them while resisting the urge to seek out sources that merely affirm their party’s position or launch surface-level attacks on the opposition.
That may not lead to a split-ticket utopia, but it would mean New Hampshire deserved its reputation for having thoughtful voters. And that’s a pretty good place to be, too.