Why not vote in the Democratic Primary if you're Republican?

Since Bush is a shoe-in as the Republican candidate, couldn’t Republicans vote in the Democratic primary? (and vice versa when the incumbent is a Dem)

Why do I never hear this suggested?

It happens.

In some places you must be registered in the party in order to vote in the primary. I recall being unable to vote in a democratic primary in Oregon when I was a registered independent. But I was able to vote in the republican primary.

Some voters might want to have their voices heard in
local and state primary elections, too. For these
voters, urgent local issues might take precedence over
national issues, which they rationalize will be taken
care of by the rest of the voting public.

Many states have closed primaries (there’s a list of primary election types by state here, and a useful glossary of terms here). The idea is to limit the voting to registered members of the party interesting in selecting the best candidate, and preventing possible “spoiler” votes by those favoring the other party.

Open primaries, for example, led to George Bush losing the Republican Primary in Michigan last time around. I wish I could cite, but it’s commonly known here amongst those that pay attention.

Quick question from a non-American: (sorry if this is a hi-jack)

Registering with a particular party:
Is this simply filling in a form to say you are in support, or is it the equivalent of actually joining the party, as many would do in the UK. Do you have to pay membership dues yearly and fulfil certain criteria to be a registered member? Are there recognised perks (entry to events, newsletters etc…)?

What exactly does being registered as a democrat / Republican / Independent actually mean in reality? Thanks.

No dues. It’s really just a notation/statement of party affiliation (or not), filed with the voting district, at the time you register to vote. The only time it’s mattered, in my experience, was the aforementioned primary votes. You aren’t obligated to vote a particular way. I imagine that a party wouldn’t want you working for them in a capacity unless you had registered as a member of that party, but that’s politics - it doesn’t affect your right to vote in a regular election.

Aro: In the U.S. when you register to vote (which is easy) you’ll be asked if you want to register for a particular party. You can choose one, or choose independent. That’s about it. No dues to pay. At election time you might be solicited to do volunteer work or asked for a donation. How are things different in the UK?

It differs from state to state. In the District of Columbia, seats on the city council are reserved for parties (as opposed to candidates) based on the percentage of registered party members that election year.

In Maryland, you register to vote and register as a member of a party, or as an independent, and based on this you get to vote in the primary of the party you selected.

In Virginia, you register to vote and no one asks you your party affiliation. You can vote in whichever primary you want, but you can only vote in one. Although I’m a Democrat, I voted in the Republican primary in 2000 (for McCain; Gore’s nomination was a foregone conclusion that year).

We get added to the voting register by post (need an address) and then local area volunteers will call to check the information and update it if necessary. Whilst you can personally support a particular party you would not be asked or required to offer this information anywhere, except on your voting slip at the time of elections.

If you do wish to join a particular party, you have to apply, generally, in writing (if Labour, see here). There are yearly dues to pay also, much like any club membership.

Sorry, have to run. I’m sure someone else can provide further details if you require them. Have a good weekend, all.

You should not generalize with “in the U.S.” Each state sets its own voting procedures. Those states that have open primaries (see sunfish’s link) do not ask for your party preference.

Alright, I’ll put on my idealist hat for a moment: wouldn’t two open primaries result in each party selecting the most centrist candidate? I know spoiler votes happen, but really, even with spoiler votes, who did the Republicans end up nominating in Michigan (with their open system)? Am I right that this Republican candidate is an attractive alternative to the Democratic candidate for some percentage of centrist Dems?

For example: Dean leans pretty hard left; Clark is more centrist. Let’s stipulate Clark wins the nomination based on Republican spoiler votes (we don’t want that left-wing nutjob getting in, so we’ll select a more centrist nutjob). Likewise, let’s open up the nominations on the right: Bush against someone like McCain. Again, pretty much everyone on the left is going to vote against Bush. Maybe McCain gets nominated, too. Suddenly, your choices are McCain and Clark, two centrist candidates with military experience who are somewhat conservative on finance with a hint of libertarianism when it comes to social policies (please PLEASE do not stomp on this broad broad generalization).

Isn’t it preferable to have two candidates running that you don’t mind, rather than one that you hate with a passion and one that you’d vote for mostly because he’s running against the guy you hate? Isn’t everyone’s expected outcome for this better overall?

Help me smash through my flawed assumptions.

Well, here’s one hammer. When I lived in western Kentucky in the 1970s, the region was solidly Democratic, and the state had a closed primary. It was well known that large numbers of Republicans registered as Democrats (my then father-in-law, to name one) solely for the purpose of voting for the weakest possible candidate they could find, to better their (admittedly slim) chances in the general election.

Secondly, primary elections are more about organization and turnout than general elections. The primary victory often goes to the candidate who does the best job of turning out supporters. In an open primary, more teeming masses might turn out, but they’d (in theory) not be voting as a group. Thus, organization would still win.

Finally, there are an awful lot of party member who believe the primary is for them. If you aren’t willing to declare yourself a member of the party, then you have no business nominating the party’s candidate. This has held back support for open primaries in many states.

My mother says my parents used to do this in Missouri. They’d register Democrat, vote for the one they disliked the least in the primary, and then vote against him in the election.

Here’s a little more information on the 2000 Michigan primary, in which John McCain defeated George W. Bush.

“According to exit polls, self-identified Republicans made up only a minority of those voting in the Michigan primary, with self-identified Democrats and independents outnumbering them 51 percent to 49 percent. Bush won the votes of two-thirds of professed Republicans, but McCain won by an even wider margin among non-Republicans.”

One could argue that the primary wasn’t truly a party primary, since the majority of voters admitted they didn’t identify with that party. Yet, they got to choose the Republican nominee.

A political party is not quite the same thing in the United States as it is in the United Kingdom. It is not generally a formal organisation with controlled rules and membership. In essence, there is really no such thing as party membership in the sense that there is membership in any other kind of organisation. In the legislature, there is an official party organisation that gives certain offices to members, but otherwise membership does not carry any automatic perquisites or obligations. It’s all dependent on how the particular people in the party leadership choose to exercise their power.

If you are only a voter and have no interest in getting involved in political activities, you can register for a particular party and you can vote in that party’s primaries, but other than that it means nothing. You are not considered any more or less a member of the party than anyone else.

If you are someone interested in getting involved in political activity, you just show up and you’re in. If you’re interested in behind-the-scenes work, you just go to the local party or to the staff of a particular candidate or office holder and you ask them if they need any help. If you are interested in professional political work, you ask them if you can apply for a job on staff. If you are interested in being an official in the party organisation (such as there is), you show up, get to know people, and the next time there is an election for local chairman or secretary or treasurer, you put your name in.

If you are interested only in contributing money, then you just write the cheque. They might give you a “membership card” of some kind just in recognition of your contribution, but it means nothing and no one will ever ask to see it (in fact, the Republican party once sent my dad a “membership card” along with a solicitation for a contribution, so clearly they don’t really care who has a card that says “Republican Party Member” on it, because it’s meaningless).

If you are interested in being an elected official, you build up your support and you file for an election, specifying that you are a member of X party. If you have gotten to know the party organisation, then they might endorse you in the primary. If not, then they might not. Either way, if you win the primary, then you’re the X candidate for that party. Usually that party’s people will automatically work in support of you, but really it’s up to their own personal choice. If they think you’re a real whack-job (for example, a LaRouschie who has managed to get nominated as a Democrat), they might refuse to help you out.

Regardless, if you get elected, then you are the office holder and the party’s designation (D or R) will appear next to your name from then on, unless you make some kind of announcement that you no longer want to be considered a member of that party. As an elected official, the party has no authority over how you vote or what you say. If you’re a member of the legislature, though, and you piss off the rest of your (nominal) fellow-party members, then they might bar you from holding any party positions, such as legislative committee memberships or chairmanships or leadership positions (leader, whip, etc.).

You can be like U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall (Texas), who has nominally been a Democrat for the last 20 years, but usually voted with the Republicans in any controversial issue (one of 30 such “Blue Dog” Democrats). At the beginning of the month, he finally decided it was more to his advantage to give up his nominal membership in the party (after U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations declared that no House district represented by a Democrat would get any funding) and the Republicans welcomed him with open arms.

That “spoiler” voting actually results in the weaker candidate winning the primary is rare. The Bush/McCain results in Michigan in 2000 are the exception, not the rule. Weaker candidates (i.e., those who did not go on to win the party’s nomination) also win in states that have closed primaries.

Washington has had blanket primaries (until this year) and from my point of view - that didn’t happen. (for an extreme example, in 1988, Pat Robertson got the state - I don’t think it’s possible by anyone’s definition of “centrist” that he was the most centrist Republican candidate.)
If there’s a run to the center, which there isn’t always, it doesn’t seem to happen until after the primary election.

If I was playing spoiler, that’s not what I’d do. Let’s say I was a Bush fan (I am not). Were I to vote in the Dem Primary, I would vote for Al Sharpton. If he actually won the primary, my boy Bush would win in a landslide. If he even got a few more percentage points and was taken that much more seriously, the centrist candidates would be forced to respond to him and waste resources dealing with him.

If you’re going to play spoiler, you vote for the most radical unelectable idiot you can. That way, your real party’s candidate has it easy.