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Voter Disconnect Between Ballot Measures and Candidates Not Unique to South Dakota

A Twitter friend notes that Kansas voters exhibit the same schizophrenia at the ballot box as South Dakota voters. They’ll vote liberal on some ballot measures, like their defense of their constitutional right to abortion at this week’s primary, but they keep voting for the conservative legislators who try doing things like erasing that right. South Dakota voters behave the same, rejecting nefarious Republican measures like Amendment C while reëlecting the nefarious Republican authors of those measures. Measures expanding Medicaid, legalizing marijuana, and boosting the minimum wage have passed in a number of red states.

So yay: at least the ballot measure/candidate disconnect isn’t unique to South Dakota voters. But what causes that disconnect?

Governing‘s Alan Greenblatt says focusing voters’ attention on a single policy issue helps them forget party labels:

For one thing, voters presented with a ballot question are deciding a single issue. They don’t have to weigh it against other possible priorities, as they do when candidates are running on a whole platform of causes. Also, policy preferences don’t overlap perfectly with party identification. Most people stay loyal to one party or the other over the course of their lives, even though parties shift over time when it comes to the issue mix they’re pushing. That’s especially true during a highly polarized era, when most Republicans wouldn’t consider voting for a Democrat (and vice versa) [Alan Greenblatt, “Liking Liberal Policies But Not Liberal Politicians,” Governing, 2022.08.05].

But Greenblatt does not think that disconnect is inevitable. He seconds a motion I’ve made and practiced throughout my politicking—liberal candidates need to seek synergy with liberal voting patterns on ballot measures:

Although progressives have gotten wise about turning to ballot initiatives to push priorities they can’t move through Republican-controlled legislatures, they aren’t always strategic about wedding popular causes to candidate campaigns, suggests Joshua Dyck, director of the Center for Public Opinion at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Republicans in past decades were careful about timing tax cut and same-sex marriage measures to help them more broadly at the ballot box, he notes, but few Democrats run on what turn out to be winning issues such as marijuana legalization.

“Democrats now have an opportunity to tailor abortion ballot measures in red states to bolster party support,” Dyck says. “The question is, will they see and effectively use this strategy?” [Greenblatt, 2022.08.05]

If voters prefer Pepsi, the candidates who make Pepsi should wear their Pepsi buttons to every event and remind people that the other guys make yucky old Coke.


  1. larry kurtz 2022-08-05 07:48

    Yeah, no.

    When a legislature like South Dakota’s is so lopsided that ballot issues are simply nullified by a super majority during the session middle of the road becomes the best hill to die on?

  2. Donald Pay 2022-08-05 09:18

    People should use the initiative or referendum when they feel an important issue has not been dealt correctly ofrfairly by the power structure. It should not be used for a partisan or even an ideological purpose. Parties should, by and large, stay the hell out of the initiative and referendum process.

  3. Donald Pay 2022-08-05 11:49

    Conversely, I don’t think people who bring ballot measures should be overtly political about it. You are interested in addressing one issue, not the political ramifications your measure might have. You can have your own political views, but you have to reach out to people with whome you might not agree on some or most issues. People tend to vote differently on candidates and issues because there is a difference. Candidates run on a lot of issues, on their experience, on their ability to connect with people, on all sorts of things that you don’t have in an issue campaign. They are completely different animals.

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