The major parties and their extreme wings

This is an interesting election year for a number of reasons. Here’s one of today’s headlines: “New York’s strict voter registration rules frustrate Sanders supporters”. The story is that some voters showed up to vote in the primaries only to find out the deadline for registering with a party, and hence for being able to vote in that party’s primary, was October 9.

One of the people quoted:

“I voted in 2008 [in the general election] with just my driver’s license and assumed it would be fine again,” said Tania Staykova, a 40-year-old Sanders supporter in Tribeca, who is head of production at an advertising agency.

“I was at the polling station at 9am, second in line, and it was only after I spoke to the fourth guy that he explained I needed to register as Democrat when I renewed my license. At no point before that was there any warning.”

“When I was at the DMV renewing my license last year, I just didn’t want to affiliate with the Democrats at that point,” added Staykova. “It doesn’t feel at all democratic to me.”

One imagines this affects the vote totals for all of the major-party candidates, but the article frames it, probably correctly, as especially a concern for Sanders supporters who were nominally independents. This is one of the reasons the Sanders campaign seems hopeless by the conventional metric, i.e. winning the nomination. Hillary Clinton has the support of the party leadership, its superdelegates, and its core bloc of voters. Sanders gets a lot of support from left-wing independents; indeed, he himself was an independent from 1979 until late 2015. I understand the frustration of Sanders supporters but this is how the game is played. Whether it should be this way is a worthy but separate question.

The larger narrative is how both parties have left room open for large parts of their prospective voter bases to be filled by outsider candidates. What’s confusing is how we are supposed to live in an era of unprecedented partisanship between the rank and file of both parties—with ample data to support this hypothesis—while “extreme” candidates are polling very well. If the parties are so widely separated from each other along the left-right spectrum, why are the outsiders viewed as even farther out? Is there no center remaining?

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