City Cast

Steve Sebelius on the Rise of Nonpartisan Voters

Scott Dickensheets
Scott Dickensheets
Posted on August 8
Photo of journalist Steve Sebelius

Steve Sebelius is a long-time Las Vegas-based political journalist, commentator, and editor.

July saw the number of nonpartisan voters in Nevada eclipse the number of people registered for either of the major parties. We asked longtime political analyst Steve Sebelius about the implications.

Some see the rise of nonpartisan voters as a chance to reduce the political tribalism that’s invaded our public life. What’s your take?

Two things: One, a good portion of the rise in nonpartisan voters is due to automatic registration at the DMV; if the customer decides not to choose a party, the default is nonpartisan. Two, most people who register nonpartisan still lean toward one of the two parties. They may be disaffected by their party’s current ideologies or standard-bearers, but they still lean left or right. True nonpartisans — those who honestly have no preference for either party — are generally disengaged voters who can’t be counted on to vote regularly or with any degree of loyalty.

How challenging will it be for parties to continuing to appeal to their ideological bases while moderating their messages to draw in more selective nonpartisans?

Parties are going to have to moderate their messaging in order to reach people who have become disaffected enough to reregister with no party in particular. A message that might excite base voters is not likely to resonate with people who have left their respective parties. It may herald a return to more basic messaging: We can be trusted to run the economy, or we won’t bankrupt the country while still trying to make sure everybody can go to the doctor when they’re sick.

In your view, are there enough true nonpartisans to provide a foothold for an effective third party?

I often compare politics to the soda aisle at the grocery store: There are so many flavors. People think they may try something new, but most end up buying a Coke or a Pepsi. There are people who are brand-loyal to something else, but as you can see from the most recent election, minor party candidates (Libertarian and Independent American Party) got a collective 2.43% of the vote in the governor’s race. In the Senate race, it was worse: Minor party candidates didn’t reach 2 percent. There will be people who look for something new, but most people are going to stick with the brand names.

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