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Split ticket ballots: Some local voters opt against only Democrats or only Republicans

Perhaps you've heard people say they're voting a straight Democratic ticket because of President Donald Trump, or only for Republicans because of their stance on law and order issues.

In a short Zoom chat Thursday with Democratic state legislature candidate Cate Steel, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said because of Trump, he thinks "there's going to be a lot of historically Republican-leaning voters down the shoreline, where you're from, who are going to walk away."

But Connecticut State Fraternal Order of Police President John Krupinsky said this will be the first election he is voting straight Republican, "because if we don't get rid of these Democrats, we're going to have no police left."

Connecticut Deputy House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora told The Hartford Courant he thinks Democrats' message of "don't vote for the Republicans because they're the party of Trump" doesn't resonate, saying, "Voters are more sophisticated. They do split the ticket."

So, who are some of these split-ticket voters?

Tom Moriarty and Pamela Stevens, 78 and 79, have signs for two East Lyme Republican legislative candidates, Sen. Paul Formica and Rep. Holly Cheeseman, but also one for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in front of their Niantic home.

Moriarty said he was a registered Democrat for probably 50 years but "became very disenchanted with how the leadership of the Democratic Party has handled the state financially." He is now unaffiliated.

He called Biden "a good, moderate Democrat" and said he and Stevens "feel very strongly that Joe Biden is a much better choice than President Trump."

Stevens, a registered Republican who is voting for Biden but said she still believes in the Republican Party, said she doesn't think Trump has done anything, and that she doesn't like his bullying, lying or demeaning of people.

"I don't think I've ever pulled a party lever," she said. "I try to vote for the person."

On the state level, Moriarty said he doesn't always agree with Formica and Cheeseman but feels the state needs balance in the legislature. He said of the two, "I don't think they need to express their feelings about Trump one way or another. I can't imagine that they're big Trump fans, but I really don't know, and I don't care."

Moriarty also said he is voting for U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, citing his work for the defense industry in southeastern Connecticut.

Peter McGuirk, a registered Republican in Quaker Hill, is voting for both Trump and Courtney. McGuirk, 74, said Trump "may be obnoxious and kind of flippant with some of his answers," but he likes what the president has done for the economy and believes Trump is helping working people through efforts to bring corporations back from overseas.

As for Connecticut's 2nd Congressional District, McGuirk is concerned that if Courtney loses and a freshman lawmaker comes in, the newcomer won't have the same status on committees, which would be a "tremendous loss." He said Courtney has been good for getting submarine contracts and helping veterans.

Courtney is chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, the first known member of Connecticut to head a naval oversight panel in the House since 1873.

McGuirk, a Vietnam veteran, used to be registered as an independent and said he's never voted a straight ticket in more than 50 years.

In Pawcatuck, Mary McCrea has a sign for Greg Howard, the Republican challenger to Rep. Kate Rotella, D-Mystic, amid signs for Democratic candidates — Biden; Courtney; Bob Statchen, running against Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton; and Beth Ladwig Leamon, running for probate judge.

She has known Howard, a Stonington police detective, for a long time, through a family connection and her work in Town Hall. But she said that isn't what swayed her to vote for him.

"He's a young man, he has a lot of energy, and I think he brings a lot to the table," said McCrea, 68. She added that she likes the perspective he brings as someone working in the police department, and that he's from Pawcatuck, which she thinks "doesn't get the attention it deserves."

A registered Democrat, McCrea said she doesn't always vote the full Democratic ticket, but she thinks the Democrats on signs in her yard have more to offer than the Republican candidates.

As ideological gaps widen, split-ticket voting dwindles

Per political scientists, studies of election results, and polling, ticket-splitters seem to be part of a dwindling minority.

A 2016 study from Steven Rogers, a political scientist at Saint Louis University, showed that changes in presidential approval have at least three times the impact on decision-making in state legislative elections as actual assessments on the state legislature.

Connecticut did show evidence of split-ticket voting in 2016: While Hillary Clinton carried the state by nearly 14 percentage points, Republicans picked up three seats in the state Senate.

Much of the research on split-ticket voting compares votes for president with those for U.S. senator or representative.

In 2016, no states voted for a different party for president and U.S. senator. By comparison, the "mismatch rate" peaked at nearly 59% in 1986 and was 18% in 2012, according to Pew Research Center.

Pew Research also found that fewer Americans hold a mix of conservative and liberal views, based on responses to 10 questions: In 2017, 32% of Americans answered with a roughly equal number of conservative and liberal positions, compared to 38% in 2015 and 49% in 2004.

On the House level, studies have found an increase of between 0.2 points and 0.5 points for a House candidate for every 1-point increase in the vote share the president gets, FiveThirtyEight reported. But some studies also found the "coattail effect" is much stronger when there's no incumbent running.

In 2016, there were 35 House districts in which voters chose different parties for U.S. representative and president, compared to 26 in 2012.

In some households, a moderate Democrat and moderate Republican

Groton residents Kim Shepardson Watson and Harry Watson, 56 and 71, each said they voted a split ticket when they mailed in their absentee ballots Thursday. She is the Democratic chairwoman of the Groton Board of Education, and he is a Republican member of the Groton Representative Town Meeting who served 27 years on the Groton Town Council.

The lone sign in their yard is for Somers. Kim said she voted for Biden while Harry said he has "extreme problems with the person who's leading our country right now, and I'll leave it at that" but then added he "voted for somebody that is more presidential."

Kim said she votes more Democratic on the national level, but on the state and local level, "I want the best person, and sometimes the best person isn't necessarily in the Democratic Party." Harry, who describes himself as a moderate Republican, said he hates that because he's a Republican, people associate him with the president.

While the household of Norwich residents Dianne and Al Daniels, 57 and 58, is politically split, each doesn't typically split their votes. Dianne is the Democratic registrar of voters, while Al is a Republican member of the Board of Education and treasurer for the Republican Town Committee.

On one side of their yard are Dianne's signs, for Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague; Rep. Emmett Riley, D-Norwich; and Biden. On the other are Al's signs for the respective Republican challengers of Osten and Riley: Steve Weir and Robert Bell. Each also has a Black Lives Matter sign.

"I am primarily a Democrat; it takes somebody really special for me to split my ticket," Dianne said. And what makes someone really special? "I got to be married to him. That's a pretty good start."

Al referenced their similar backgrounds as working-class Detroiters, and said political disagreements don't even rank as high as what's for dinner.

"We're happy with where we are, and we agree more than we disagree, so there's been no knock-down drag-outs, and there probably won't be," Dianne said. They've been married for 30 years, "so we've had the tough conversations already, and we both know where each of us stands."

Why and how we reported this story

On Election Day in 2018, when I was talking to voters outside polls in Groton, many told me they were a Republican or independent but were voting straight Democrat because of Donald Trump. This year, looking at lawn signs as I drive around, I've been struck by how few yards I saw had signs for both Republican and Democratic candidates.

I became interested in finding voters who were still splitting the ticket, and curious about which way they were splitting the ticket and why. My conjecture was that the increasingly divided nature of national politics has made ticket-splitting less common, but I wanted to read the research.

As I interviewed four Connecticut General Assembly candidates across the two state House races I'm covering, I mentioned my story idea about voters splitting the ticket. Holly Cheeseman mentioned a Niantic home with Cheeseman, Formica and Biden signs. In Pawcatuck, I came across Mary McCrea's signs while out for a walk one evening.

Another reporter mentioned Dianne and Al Daniels, so I thought I'd expand my story to include not only split-ticket voters but split households. I also reached out to Kim and Harry Watson because I knew she is a Democrat and he is a Republican.

I posted on The Day's Facebook page and in six community forums, without mentioning candidates by name, that I was looking to speak with "local voters who are splitting the ticket this year, rather than voting for only Democrats or only Republicans." That's how I connected with Peter McGuirk. I didn't otherwise have much luck through Facebook finding split-ticket voters who were willing to talk on the record, but several people voting for Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen for president reached out to me, and I intend to write a separate article on third-party voters.

— Erica Moser


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