Unlike much of The Daily Pennsylvanian’s readership, I did not find the title of the recent column “Do you love democracy? Then vote Republican.” very provocative. As many people know, I am the proud president of Penn’s College Republicans chapter. I do love democracy and often vote Republican!
What I did disagree with, however, was the premise in the text of the piece: that it is “democratic” to try and strategize with one’s vote. The argument is essentially that since the Democratic nominee for president in 2024 is guaranteed to be Joe Biden, registering to vote in the Republican primaries will ensure a say in who is on the other side of the presidential ballot. The author of the column, Spencer Gibbs, describes this as the “key to fighting polarization,” but in many ways, his argument is naive to the realities that underpin a deeply polarized system, and threatens the very “democracy” his argument is seeking to protect.
The foundational assumption of his column, that Joe Biden has no serious challenger or no potential to lose the Democratic nomination is for starters, overly simplistic. Representative Dean Phillips from Minnesota has already come out to oppose the sitting President, so Democrats will have the opportunity to vote for him in the primaries. While Gibbs is right that traditionally incumbent presidents have not lost their party’s nomination, it is also unprecedented to have a nominee who will be 82 by his second inauguration and who initially suggested he would not run for a second term when he was first elected.
The president also has a historically low approval rating of 37%, including among his own party which has slipped to 75%. In recent polling, 63% of Democratic voters said they were subject to potentially changing their candidate choice in the primary election depending on events leading up to it. In my opinion, it would be deeply “democratic” to let members of the president’s party decide if, under these unprecedented conditions, they’d still like him to be their nominee.
For most Americans, as Gibbs’s nod to polarization points out, votes are promised to the party line prior to even entering the ballot box, no matter who the candidate is. On the left, this is affectionately referred to with the saying, “Vote blue no matter who!” which can be seen on yard signs and t-shirts of canvassers. This is a sad state of affairs for many, like myself, who would prefer people vote based on candidates' policy positions rather than simply partisan affiliation.
Nevertheless, the reality remains that many Americans will never vote for a Republican (or a Democrat) no matter who the candidate is. If that is the case for you, then you should not vote in a primary that does not match your party affiliation. Spencer’s argument is potentially beneficial for a truly unaffiliated voter who can think of Republican primary choices that they’d vote for. For everyone else, if you are displeased with Biden but would never vote for a Republican, vote for Phillips, or write in a candidate.
All of that discussion is limited simply to the first line of your 2024 ballot … what about every other race?
In 2024, every member of the U.S. House of Representatives and 33 U.S. Senators will be up for re-election. Many of these races will be highly contentious in swing districts and states, but even more importantly for the subject of primaries, many of these candidates will be decided in competitive primaries. Particularly given recent disagreement in the Democratic base over the issue of support for Israel, many well-established progressive members have had challengers announce races against them. If you care about who represents you in Congress, as you should, stay registered in the party you most closely align with.
Gibbs’s argument suffers from a similar flaw as others which urge strategic voter registration. Last year, I wrote a piece that encouraged people to register where they had the most ties rather than to contrive their Election Day to “make their vote count” in a swing state. The logic of “maximizing one’s vote” undermines the entire system of “representative democracy” by ranking elections by national importance rather than ensuring that each community’s interests are best reflected at every level of government.
Simply put, there is nothing “democratic” about strategizing with your vote. This thinking endangers the importance of state and local elections, which already have absurdly low voter participation in the United States. It also creates a slippery slope to situations like that which occurred in 2022, where the Democratic political machine backed far-right candidates in Republican primaries because they deemed them “easier to beat.” This “strategy” not only ran the risk of getting candidates whom Democrats deeply ideologically opposed elected, but it also served to distort the preferences of Republican primary voters.
So the real question remains: Do you love democracy? Then use the system the way it was designed. In a country with increasing ideological divides even within the respective parties in our two-party system, we should all be a little less focused on strategizing and a little more focused on ensuring we can select candidates who align with our values to represent us at every level of government.
LEXI BOCCUZZI is a College senior studying philosophy, politics, and economics from Stamford, Conn. Her email is email@example.com.