News Item: The trend of newly-registered Florida voters rejecting both major political parties continues unabated as the combined total of voters known as NPAs (no party affiliation) and minor-party voters has surpassed the total of a major party in 11 counties.(Tampa Bay Times, 3/16/15)
Once upon a time in a land not at all far away (called “Florida”), Democrats outnumbered Republicans among registered voters by about 4:1. But they were not Democrats as Democrats are generally defined today. In fact, many of them were John Birchers and Klansmen; and collectively and colloquially, they were known as Dixiecrats.
In those dark days (known as “the 1960s”), the Republicans cried out for open primaries, protesting that Florida’s closed system deprived them of their right to vote. But their pleas fell on deaf ears.
They were saved by Richard Nixon, whose infamous Southern Strategy began to change things in the mid-Sixties, and by the Reagan Revolution, which finished the job in the 1980s. By 1996, the GOP had attracted about 98% of the old Dixiecrats and enough new voters that the party was closing in on parity with the Dems.
Then a funny thing happened. After growing its share of registered voters from 22.4% in 1968 to 41% in 1996, the GOP hit a wall. But it wasn’t a wall comprised of Democrats, whose own share of registered voters declined from 75.6% to 46.1% during the same period. It was a wall of Others: people who chose to register with one of a dozen minor parties or with no party affiliation at all.
Like the proverbial frog in the pot of water, both major parties failed to realize that the warmth they were feeling was actually a threat to their survival – or at the very least, their well-being.
To borrow another analogy, both major parties continued to preen and parade like the emperor with no clothes, acting as if they were attired in the impeccable, impenetrable armor of a majority, and banishing those who dared to suggest otherwise.
Today, the Others account for nearly 27% of all registered Florida voters: a 13-fold increase since 1968, when they accounted for merely 2%. Republicans now claim only 34.8% of registered voters while Democrats claim just 38.4%. Obviously, neither constitutes a majority in the real world.
The water’s getting hotter, partly because more and more voters every day are coming to the realization that Florida’s antiquated, discriminatory closed primary system constitutes disenfranchisement. And the open primary movement that began a few years ago in California is spreading, as trends usually do, to the east and south.
Whichever party is first to embrace the radical notion that “right to vote” means that all the people ought to be allowed to vote in all elections will not only be doing itself a huge favor at the polls: it will also be doing the right thing.