Apr 21, 2024

INSIGHT: Protest votes signal troubles for Biden, Trump

Posted Apr 21, 2024 9:15 AM

The presidential primaries are unfolding quietly. Having clinched their party nominations early, Biden and Trump have shifted focus toward the general election.

Yet all is not well.

From the start, a stubborn and sizeable percentage of Democrat and Republican primary voters have refused to endorse the front runners. Instead, they have voted for the alternatives.

<i>Mark R. Joslyn</i>
Mark R. Joslyn

The significance of these votes becomes clear in battleground states where lingering inter-party divisions could determine the general election outcome.

In the two crucial swing states of Georgia and Wisconsin, nearly 15 percent of Republican primary voters supported Nikki Haley.

This after she had quit the race.

Prior to that, Haley won 43 percent in New Hampshire, 27 percent in Michigan, and defeated Trump in Vermont.

Haley’s success was credited to open primaries where Independents and Democrats can participate.

However, in Arizona’s closed primary Haley still captured nearly 18 percent. And in the Florida and Kansas closed primaries, she locked up 14 and 16 percent, respectively.

In four of the five most populous Kansas counties, Haley’s percentages increased. She won 22 percent in Johnson, 18 percent in Sedgwick, 22 percent in Shawnee, and 26 percent in Douglas.

Adding in “none of the names shown” category, the statewide anti-Trump Kansas vote reached 21 percent or just over 20,000 GOP voters.

Meanwhile, a parallel trend is taking place among Democrats.

Biden’s decision to skip New Hampshire and award South Carolina the first primary spot disappointed many Granite State voters. As a result, Dean Phillips secured nearly 20 percent of the vote.

A few weeks later, over 100,000 Michigan Democrats cast uncommitted ballots protesting Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

In North Carolina the “no preference” option garnered nearly 90,000 votes. And in Kansas the “none of the names shown” option came in second place at 10 percent. The tally included almost 15 percent in solidly blue Douglas County and 8 percent in Johnson and Sedgwick counties. More recently, in pivotal swing state Wisconsin, 48,000 Democrats voted “uninstructed," twice the goal of the grassroots group Listen to Wisconsin that demanded policy changes over the war in Gaza. Another 17,000 voted for Phillips, who ended his campaign weeks before.

Clearly, thousands of Democrats and Republicans are using presidential primaries to express their dissatisfaction.

Yet neither nominee appears eager to reach out to the disaffected.

Trump remains steadfast in his unapologetic style that does not sit well with moderate Republicans but resonates with some Democrat leaning groups including working-class whites, Blacks and Latinos.

The Biden campaign seems focused on capturing the Haley block, investing in ads that showcase Trump’s offensive comments directed at Haley.

The reality is few disaffected primary voters will cross party lines. In matters of ideology and policy they are still closer to their party nominee than the opposition.

However, it’s possible they stay home on election day or continue to protest by other means. If protests occur during the summer – possibility at the party conventions, it could spell real trouble.

So as the primaries near their conclusion, let’s see whether Biden and Trump take the necessary steps to unify their parties.

 — Mark R. Joslyn