Pundits confuse or conflate swing voters and centrists. They’re not the same. Swing voters can believe we need stronger environmental policies that protect us from sea level rise, endorse robust protections for reproductive liberties, yet believe the national debt is a problem and that Hillary Clinton is a cold bitch; some of the vilest misogynists, in my experience, have been on the left. In a recently published essay, Matthew Yglesias makes a case for voters who switched from Barack Obama to Donald Trump (Obama-Trump) and Mitt Romney to Clinton (Romney-Clinton): they’re a small group but they matter electorally. That Trump ran as a moderate against the lib Clinton is a point is worth stressing:
Trump campaigned on protectionist rhetoric that voters are more accustomed to hearing from Democrats, promised a large increase in infrastructure spending, abandoned traditional Republican commitments to cut Social Security and Medicare expenditures, and even made ambiguous promises to create a universal health care system.
We know now that he lied. None of the toxic fumes that have issued from the White House in the last eighteen months bear even a whiff of liberalism, let alone human decency.
Secondly, Yglesias writes, ticket splitting is still a thing:
Democrats in 2018 are all more similar to each other than were Democrats in 1978, and the same is true of Republicans, so there’s less reason for voters to split their tickets. Nonetheless, it does happen. There were 25 House Republicans who won reelection in 2016 despite Clinton carrying their district, plus 12 Democrats who won races in districts that voted for Trump.
These 27 seats are a minority of all the races, and obviously, most of the individual voters in those ticket-splitting races are not themselves ticket splitters (conversely, there are ticket-splitting voters in the hundreds of other districts), but 27 is not zero. Indeed, with Democrats needing to pick up 23 House seats to obtain a majority in the US House of Representatives, these ticket-splitting seats are a crucial battleground of American politics.
Evidence of ticket splitters is also available in other races. Jason Kander and Evan Bayh lost their Senate races in Missouri and Indiana, respectively, but both came much closer to winning than Clinton did. Alternatively, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) performed slightly worse in her successful challenge to Mark Kirk than Clinton did in Illinois, largely because she ran weaker in the suburbs of Chicago. But Duckworth did carry five downstate counties — Alexander, Pulaski, Gallatin, Madison, and Calhoun — that also voted for Trump.
I live in one of those split counties. Carlos Curbelo and the retiring Ileana Ros-Lehtinen won in a county resoundingly won by Clinton (as Obama, Kerry, Gore, etc won too) yet in which Trump welcomed back the Cuban-American vote that Obama had peeled off in 2012. Hell, in 2008 I voted for Ros-Lehtinen but left unfilled the bubble for president. One day I’ll write that long-promised piece detailing the collapse of the illusion of my political independence; I was the textbook example of the non-affiliated voter who almost always voted for Democrats and was to the left of most positions. I liked to flaunt my independence; my putative lack of commitment relieved me of the burden of caring.