ANALYSIS: Straight ticket no longer option in Mo.

Sunday, October 26, 2008 | 6:09 p.m. CDT


JEFFERSON CITY — Could Missourians choose Republican John McCain as president and Democrat Jay Nixon as governor? Or might they split their pick between Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and Republican gubernatorial candidate Kenny Hulshof?

History suggests that's unlikely to happen in Missouri. But some political scientists nonetheless foresee the potential for a top-of-the-ticket split in the Nov. 4 election.

One thing is for sure: Because of a change in state law, it will be harder than in past presidential elections for Missourians to vote a straight-party ticket.

Missouri traditionally has voted for gubernatorial and presidential candidates from the same party. In fact, in the past 100 years, there have been just four instances when Missourians picked presidents and governors of opposite parties.

One of those happened in 2000, when Missourians voted for Republican President Bush while electing Democrats to most statewide offices, including Bob Holden for governor.

But 2000 was tragically unique. Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan was killed in a plane crash while campaigning for the U.S. Senate three weeks before the election. He won anyway, as the passion flowing from that event spilled over to the ballot booth.

Besides that, the most recent case of Missouri ticket splitting occurred in 1968, when Republican Richard Nixon won the White House but Democratic Gov. Warren Hearnes won re-election. That election also has an asterisk. It was the first, following a change to the Missouri Constitution, in which an incumbent governor was able to seek a second term.

When Republican Gov. Matt Blunt won election in 2004, Bush also won — keeping Missouri's top of the ticket homogenous.

But lawmakers in 2006 made a significant change to Missouri's ballots. They did away with the straight-party option that allowed people to cast a vote for every candidate from a particular party by checking a single box for that party.

In the 2004 presidential election, more than 1 million Missouri voters — accounting for about 40 percent of all ballots cast — chose the straight party option, according to the secretary of state's office. A majority of those straight tickets were Democratic.

This year will mark the first presidential election in which Missourians will not have a straight-party option. That means die-hard Democrats or Republicans will have to physically make a mark next to each candidate. That theoretically creates a greater potential for ticket splitting.

"Coattails work really well when you have straight-ticket voting," said George Connor, acting chairman of the political science department at Missouri State University. "I think that's going to have some bearing on this race — the fact that you don't."

Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, Missouri's chief election official, has distributed 4,500 posters for local election authorities to place at voting precincts reminding people the straight-party option is gone. The posters declare: "Don't Forget: Make a Mark by Each Candidate You're Voting For."

A list of instructions mailed by Carnahan to local election officials advises them to train poll workers to hand ballots to people with a verbal reminder that straight-party voting is no longer an option.

Of course, nothing prevents someone from still voting for every Democrat or Republican on the ballot. In fact, that might be expected from people so loyal to their party that they previously were willing to check the straight-party box.

Political scientists David Webber and David Kimball, who both have researched straight-party voting, believe that Missourians this year could make a split-party pick of Republican McCain and Democrat Nixon.

But neither believes the repeal of straight-party voting would contribute greatly to that.

Webber analyzed the effect of the repeal of straight-ticket voting in the 2006 election by comparing votes for U.S. Senate and Missouri Senate.

The prevailing theory was that without the straight-ticket option, some voters would grow tired of making decisions and not vote in some down-ballot races. But Webber found that slightly more people actually voted in down-ballot legislative races in 2006 than in 2002.

And contrary to the theory that repealing the straight-party option would help Republicans, Webber's figures showed that votes for Democratic candidates for U.S. and state Senate increased more than for Republicans from 2002 to 2006.

Kimball said his own research also has caused him to rethink his original assumption that straight-party ballots contributed to the coattail effect of electing statewide officers of the same party as the prevailing presidential candidate.

"Over time, I've become more skeptical of that position," Kimball said.

Rather, from year to year, "the tide favors one party, and voters go with the tide, and the tide washes over all the candidates of that party," Kimball said. "I don't think it has really much to do with the straight-party punch."


Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Ed Nelson October 26, 2008 | 7:54 p.m.

New youtube video about ACORN that Republicans don't want you to see. They want to take away your right to vote.

Watch for yourself, get the truth and then pass it on.

(Report Comment)
Ed Nelson October 26, 2008 | 7:57 p.m.

I love the disconnect of people going to a McCain / Palin rally because they are for "hardworking" people. The only hard work McCain does is try to remember which of his 7 houses he is currently at, which of his 13 cars he last drove and where he parked it. And Sarah Palin has the RNC buying her clothes now, $150,000 worth.

Wake up people the Republicans have been picking your pockets for decades. Alaska is in the top three of so-called socialist states, that is for every $1 dollar they pay in taxes they get back $1.84 in federal dollars. Talk about pork and earmarks.

Decades of "trickle down economics" has been a colossal economic failure. Remember Bush's tax cuts and economic stimulus rebate that he gave all of us? This was suppose to create jobs. Guess what the economy is in the crapper and 800,000 jobs have been LOST just this year. Our retirement accounts and 401k have lost 30% of their value in just the past month. Our health care premiums are up 80% and $700 billion of our money has gone to Iraq to pay for a war that was a mistake. Now another $700 billion of our money has gone to bailout Wall Street to try to fix Bush’s mess.

The Republicans have been redistributing wealth FROM the middle class TO the ultra-rich 5% for decades. The middle class has seen their annual wages decrease by $2000.00 over the past 8 years and their taxes go into the pockets of the ultra-rich. That is the real wealth redistribution that the Republicans don’t want us to know about. It is high time the middle class get a tax break like the one Obama is proposing.

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.