There is some statistical support for this notion from the exit polls in New Hampshire. New Hampshire is an open primary state which allows voters unaffiliated with a party to vote in either primary. Voters could also change their affiliation several months before the primary date in order to vote in the other party’s primary.
One way to tell would be to compare the number of registered Democrats and Republicans in 2008 and 2012. However, a comparison of registered voters, either total or by party, between 2008 and 2012 would be skewed because New Hampshire purged its voter rolls of more than 97,000 voters between the two elections. This is a decline in total voters of about 11 percent.
The Boston Globe reports that the number of registered Republicans actually voting in the N.H. primary was down from 2008 and 2010, even though the number of total voters increased in 2012. According to the Globe, there were 249,655 votes cast with “around 152,000” votes cast by registered Republicans. However, the N.Y. Times elections results show a total of 248,485 votes cast for Republican candidates. This means that around 96,000 votes in the Republican primary were cast by independent or unaffiliated voters for Republican candidates. This is almost 40 percent of the total. Former Democrats might well choose to become independent rather than registering as Republican.
New York Times exit polls from New Hampshire seem back up the hypotheses that many of Ron Paul’s votes came from people that typically would not vote Republican. Jon Huntsman won the most votes from self-described Democrats (40 percent), but Ron Paul won the most independents (31 percent). Paul also won younger voters (46 percent) and lower income voters (31 percent). Paul also took 47 percent of the voters who claim no religious affiliation. These categories of voters typically lean Democrat.
CNN exit polls from Iowa show similar findings. Paul won handily among young and low income voters. He also won 40 percent of moderate and liberal voters. Iowa does not allow Democrats to caucus with Republicans, but Paul won the most independents (43 percent).
There are several possible reasons for Paul’s strong showing among Democratic cohorts. One possibility is that dissatisfaction with President Obama is driving Democrats out of their party. This theory is borne out by a Gallup poll from 2011 that shows identification with the Democratic Party is trending down.
If Democrats left their party to support a Republican, Ron Paul would be a logical choice. According to the ACLU, Ron Paul is more “progressive” than President Obama on a host of civil liberties and anti-war issues. There is even a website, BlueRepublican.org, dedicated to “joining the Republican party for one year to help Ron Paul.”
Similarly, Paul may be benefitting from an influx of Occupy Wall Street voters and campus radicals who are unhappy with Obama. Last summer, several of the Occupy Atlanta members reported that they were considering Ron Paul. Other reports throughout the OWS movement revealed anger at Obama for his support of corporate bailouts and his failure to swiftly end the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.
Another possibility is that Democrats are crossing party lines to sabotage the Republicans. With President Obama running unopposed in the Democratic primary, there is little incentive for Democrats to go to the polls on his behalf. Democrats might be tempted to vote for the Republican least likely to win the general election. Ron Paul would likely meet these criteria, with a number of fringe positions and extremist followers.
As the Republican race continues, more will be learned about Ron Paul’s surge. If Democratic voters are turning out to vote for him in large numbers, he will likely do well in the states with open Republican primaries. Many of these voters will ultimately vote for President Obama or a third party candidate in the general election when Paul fails to become the GOP candidate.
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