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(ANALYSIS) Liz Cheney needs independents more than Democrats in House primary

Despite all the attention on the Dems, the numbers show that the independents are a bigger bloc for the incumbent.

Jim KingWyoFile

Wyoming’s Republican primary for U.S. Representative is garnering national attention. Challengers began to emerge shortly after incumbent Liz Cheney backed the second impeachment of then-President Donald Trump. His continued criticism of the former president and his participation in the House Select Committee investigating the events on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 further stoked opposition to Cheney. Ultimately, four Republican challengers showed up to run against the incumbent U.S. Representative in the August primary election.

Most notable among the challengers is attorney Harriet Hageman, a former Cheney ally and former Trump critic who shifted her allegiance to Trump and her critics to Cheney. Hageman won the former president’s endorsement and raised more than $2 million for his campaign. Trump and several Republican members of the U.S. House recently attended a rally in Casper on behalf of Hageman. The 11th commandment coined by California party leader Gaylord Parkinson and made famous by President Ronald Reagan — “Thou shalt speak no ill of another Republican” — is certainly not the norm for the 2022 primary election season. .

Comments on the Republican primary in Wyoming generally emphasize two points. First, many point to polls conducted for the Club for Growth PAC and Wyoming Values ​​PAC showing Hageman leading Cheney. Those polls give Hageman a lead of 30 and 28 percentage points, respectively. The implication is that Cheney faces, at the very least, a climb to the GOP nomination and could be locked into a losing campaign.

Second, commentators often argue that Cheney needs the support of Democrats to win the primary. Jason Lemon recently wrote in Newsweek, “Some analysts have speculated that Wyoming Democrats could potentially save Cheney by voting for her in the August primary.” A New York Times insight into the dynamics of running home by Reid J. Epstein concluded that it “raises questions in Wyoming about whether [Cheney] is counting on the Democrats to bail it out in the August primary. Jason Linkins argued in The New Republic that “it becomes clear that [Cheney] will likely need more help winning back his seat, especially from Democrats.

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Such claims have stoked fears among Republicans in the state. Wyoming law limits participation in a party’s primary elections to those who are registered with that political party. Thus, only registered Republicans are eligible to vote in the August 16 GOP primary. However, state law also allows people to register and change their voter registrations at the polls on Election Day. This gives rise to Republican claims that Democrat cross-voting is influencing Republican primary results and led to the introduction of legislation in the 2021 and 2022 Wyoming legislative sessions that would eliminate Election Day changes in voter party registrations.

Geoffrey Skelley of the website fivethirtyeight.com offered a different argument regarding Cheney’s fate. According to Skelley, “[Cheney’s] the political future rests on winning over Republican voters rather than winning over Democratic or Independent voters. She needs a lot of the former to make the latter count. In this, Skelley is half right. To be sure, any candidate needs Republican votes to win the party’s nomination, but Skelley’s analysis is flawed because it ignores the makeup of the electorate in a Republican primary. Democrats will play little to no role in determining the outcome of this year’s Republican primary. Independents, however, will play a substantial role.

Undoubtedly, there are people in Wyoming who are registered to vote as Republicans but generally prefer Democratic candidates, but those people are few in number. A comparison of data from the secretary of state’s website and surveys shows that the percentage of Wyoming residents who are registered to vote as Democrats and who identify as Democrats in polls follows closely behind. In an October 2020 survey conducted by the University of Wyoming, 15% of state respondents identified themselves as “Democrats.” On the day of the August 2020 primary, 18% of corresponding voters were registered as “Democrats”. In contrast, 70% of voters registered as Republicans, but only 47% of poll respondents identified as Republicans. The difference between voter registration and ID percentages unquestionably results from the fact that independents — people who are not affiliated with any political party — register as Republicans and contest Republican primaries. Of those who identified as independents in the UW survey, 52% said they were registered to vote as Republicans.

This chart contains calculations based on Secretary of State data and a University of Wyoming survey. (Jim King)

It is understandable that people not affiliated with a political party choose to participate in the Republican Party primary. Republicans have so dominated Wyoming elections for decades that the main opportunity for independents to have a real say in who governs them is to vote in the GOP primary. No Democrat from Wyoming has been elected to the United States House of Representatives since 1976 or to the United States Senate since 1970. Republicans have swept the state’s executive offices of Secretary of State, Treasurer, Auditor and Superintendent of Public Instruction in the last seven elections. The only Democrat to be elected statewide during this period was Dave Freudenthal, who won the governorship by a narrow margin in 2002 and won re-election in 2006.

With independents and Republicans — not Democrats — holding the keys to the August 16 Republican primary for the U.S. House, we should examine how each of these groups viewed President Trump while in office and the question. irregularity in the 2020 presidential election. Recent polls provide no breakdowns by personal characteristics or political outlook. It is, however, possible to reflect how independents and Republicans viewed President Trump and the election using data from the UW poll conducted in conjunction with the 2020 election.

First, respondents to the October 2020 UW survey were asked to rate President Trump’s performance in office as excellent, good, fair, or poor. As expected, Republicans overwhelmingly rated Trump’s performance positively (91% said “excellent” or “good”) while Democrats overwhelmingly rated the President’s performance negatively (92% “poor”). . Independents are interesting, whose ratings of Trump lean negatively: 41% offering an “excellent” or “good” rating while 17% said “fair” and 41% said “poor”.

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This chart contains calculations based on Secretary of State data and a University of Wyoming survey. (Jim King)

Second, independents acted on their assessments of President Trump in the 2020 presidential election. A majority (53%) voted for Democratic nominee Joe Biden while 9% voted for a political party nominee. minor. That translates to five of eight independents not backing Trump for a second term. Again as expected, Wyoming residents identifying as Republicans and Democrats voted for their party’s nominee by substantial margins.

This chart contains calculations based on Secretary of State data and a University of Wyoming survey. (Jim King)

A final consideration is how independents perceived the ballot counting after the 2020 presidential election. In the second stage of the UW survey, conducted the week after the election, respondents were asked in what extent they were confident that votes were being counted accurately across the country. Three-fifths of independents said they were confident election results were being counted accurately, compared with just a quarter of Republicans. Continued discussion of election security, disruption of the vote count on January 6, and congressional investigation into these events may have prompted a change. However, a national survey conducted by Monmouth University in November 2021 found no significant change in public perception of the election outcome. As attitudes have changed little nationally, there is little reason to believe that attitudes in Wyoming have changed significantly.

This chart contains calculations based on Secretary of State data and a University of Wyoming survey. (Jim King)

Although the two leading candidates, Cheney and Hageman, address a variety of issues on their campaign websites, the contest for Wyoming’s sole U.S. Representative seat seems to boil down to Donald Trump. The former president is featured prominently on Hageman’s website with “ENDORSED BY PRESIDENT TRUMP” in bold red letters on the homepage and multiple references to Trump’s policies in his discussion of the issues she supports. For his part, Cheney describes himself as “a constitutional conservative voice from Wyoming” who stands for “truth, accountability and the Constitution”; his opposition to Trump is not mentioned but is clearly implied by his emphasis on defending the Constitution.

Nothing is certain, but evidence from the 2020 surveys suggests that Cheney and Hageman will appeal to different segments of the electorate on primary election day. Both candidates need the support of mainstream Republicans, people who identify and register to vote as Republicans. Hageman is likely leading among those potential voters, but support for Trump — whether in job performance reviews or on ballots — hasn’t been unanimous among Republicans. Cheney can expect support from these disgruntled GOP voters, but they are unlikely to constitute a majority of self-identified Republicans.

More fertile ground for Cheney is among independents, people who do not identify with a political party but register to vote as Republicans as their primary avenue of influence in a one-party state. In the 2020 UW Election Survey, the majority of Wyoming independents rated Trump’s presidential performance negatively, did not vote for Trump in the presidential election, and were confident that presidential votes were being accurately counted. . These people are much more likely to support Cheney than Hageman in the Republican primary. The outcome of the contest for the Republican nomination for U.S. Representative will therefore be determined by the extent to which those Wyomingites turn out to vote on Aug. 16 rather than the crusader Democrats participating in the GOP primary.


James D. King is a professor of political science in the School of Politics, Public Affairs, and International Studies at the University of Wyoming.