The Problem with Open Primaries and Caucuses No One is Talking About

In case you've had your head in the sand for the past several months, it's Primary Election season for the upcoming Presidential Election.  To describe it in game-like terms, states each take a turn having their residents vote for a candidate (Iowa goes first), and based on the voting the state allocates delegates (i.e. "points").  For Republican candidates, the first one to 1237 points wins.  For Democrats, the magic number is 2383.  Each state subscribes to one of two ways of deciding how to allocate delegates to a particular candidate: either by caucus or by primary election.

Now, here's where things get a bit more complicated.  Both Caucuses and Primaries are split into several types: either "Open," "Closed," or some hybrid form of both "Open" and "Closed".  So what's the difference between an Open and a Closed Primary/Caucus?  In an Open Primary or Caucus, any voter (Republican, Democrat, or otherwise) is able and allowed to submit a ballot for any candidate in any party.  Conversely, in a Closed Primary or Caucus, a voter can only cast a ballot for the political party with which he/she is registered.  According to standard Game Theory ideology, each voter would vote for their preferred candidate, and the candidate(s) with the most votes would procure the most delegates, thus reflecting the plurality, if not the majority of the will of the people.  The argument in favor of an Open contest is that Independents, swing-voters, etc. can select whichever candidate among any party whom they prefer.

In a normal election cycle, the difference between Open and Closed systems may be trivial-- but the 2016 election cycle is far from normal.  The Republican Party produced several viable Presidential candidates with a wide range of credentials, backgrounds, and policy positions which may appeal to prospective voters--and then it also produced Donald Trump.  Let's face it: most of the country, Democrats and Republicans alike, acknowledge and understand that Donald Trump is not a viable candidate for the Presidency.  One need look no further than his approval ratings (which are already in the toilet), or worse, how he is getting trounced in national polls against a candidate with a similar approval rating and similarly against a self-declared Socialist-- not to mention these other reasons.  Yet Trump continues to regularly win these contests in both "red" and "blue" states.

What does this have to do with Open Primaries or Caucuses?  Democratic voters participating in these events can choose to follow the standard Game Theory and select the candidate they feel best represents their interests.  Or, they can pick up a Republican ballot instead and do their best to sabotage the Republican nomination process so that the opposing party produces the weakest candidate possible, thereby ensuring that a Democrat ends up in the Oval Office in November.  This would be a compelling strategy under one of two conditions: EITHER the voter has no strong preference between the Democratic candidates and is only focused on a Democratic win in November, OR they live in a state which leans heavily in favor of one Democratic candidate over the other(s), thus effectively invalidating their vote for their own party.

For those who may be thinking, "This never happens"-- it does.  One possible recent example of this is the 2008 Presidential race.  According to exit polls in the New Hampshire Republican primary, candidate Mitt Romney won among registered Republicans, yet John McCain ended up winning the state overall.  According to the same exit poll, John McCain won by a landslide among voters who identified as Liberal.

Could this phenomenon be partly to blame for Donald Trump's supposed "overwhelming" support in the Primary and Caucus contests?  Let's look at the numbers.  The list below are the states which hold an Open or Semi-Open Primary or Caucus, the declared Republican winner, and the winning percentage of votes (as of March 24th):

Alabama Trump 43.4%
Arkansas Trump 32.8%
Georgia Trump 38.8%
Illinois Trump 38.8%
Michigan Trump 36.5%
Minnesota Rubio 36.5%
Mississippi Trump 47.3%
Missouri Trump 40.9%
North Carolina Trump 40.2%
Ohio Kasich 46.8%
Tennessee Trump 38.9%
Texas Cruz 43.8%
Vermont Trump 32.7%
Virginia Trump 34.7%

And here's the results of the states which hold Closed contests:

Alaska Cruz 36.4%
Arizona Trump 47.1%
District of Columbia Rubio 37.3%
Florida Trump 45.7%
Hawaii Trump 42.4%
Idaho Cruz 45.4%
Iowa Cruz 27.6%
Kansas Cruz 48.2%
Kentucky Trump 35.9%
Louisiana Trump 41.4%
Maine Cruz 45.9%
Nevada Trump 45.9%
New Hampshire Trump 35.3%
Oklahoma Cruz 34.4%
Utah Cruz 69.2%
Wyoming Cruz 66.3%

Trump has won 11/14 Open or Semi-Open contests, or 78.5%.  Yet in Closed contests he has only won 7/16 contests, or 43.7%.  In fact, in Closed contests Ted Cruz has won the majority of contests (8/16 or 50%).  Unfortunately, there's no conclusive way of knowing what subset of voters are casting votes not in favor of their preferred candidate but in an act of sabotage against the competing Party.  But, the disparity in results between Open and Closed contests is compelling.  This sabotage ideology is, frankly, disgusting.  It prioritizes partisanship over leadership.  It undermines the intentions of the entire election process and undermines the faith of the American people in this great Nation that was established over 230 years ago.  America deserves better.