My Turn: The Republican presidential poll exceeded expectations

  • Thursday, March 17, 2016 1:01am
  • Opinion

Rich Moniak, in his premature speculation (published March 11 in the Empire) about results of the Alaska Republican Party’s Presidential Preference Poll, leads readers into his fact-free wilderness, where primaries are the same as preference polls, which are the same as caucuses. To Moniak, it’s all the same.

Moniak writes that GOP turnout was poor for the PPP. Of course, he needed to try to argue that position — this is his partisan prerogative, and he made a valiant effort.

But the final numbers are in, including out-of-district tallies: More than 23,000 Alaska Republicans — 17 percent — took time out of their day on March 1 to travel to a location, park, stand in line, wait their turn, and mark a ballot for their choice for president. That’s one out of six registered Republicans in Alaska.

Keep in mind, there is no absentee voting in our “caucus in a box” method of binding our delegates to the national convention. There’s no early voting.

Because of our distances, districts are spread far and wide, and not every town has a Presidential Preference Poll volunteer corp. For example, Petersburg and Skagway did not stand up a PPP; Sitka, Haines, Wrangell, Craig, and Ketchikan did. Barrow did. Bettles did. Tok did not.

It’s volunteer driven and paid for exclusively by the fundraising efforts of local Republicans in each district, so there will always be limited places in which a person can participate. But there is, at least, one polling location per district, just as there is with a traditional caucus.

Our “ballot caucus” allows Republicans to avoid listening to speeches and refrain from shuffling around gymnasiums. It is not, as Moniak presents it, a primary. But it is a heck of a good snapshot into what Alaska Republicans are thinking.

In Juneau, there was one location to cast a ballot – Centennial Hall.  More than 730 District 33 and 34 voters took part, (including 78 from District 33 who voted in Haines). That’s about 17 percent of registered Republicans in the area.

To compare, in last fall’s municipal election in Juneau, paid for by taxpayer dollars, voters had 13 polling locations in Juneau, and the turnout was 23 percent.

Moniak brings up the Idaho primary, where the Republican turnout percentage was much higher at 74 percent. He neglects to mention that it was an actual state-run primary, paid for with state dollars.

Moniak compares us to Iowa caucuses, where Republicans increased their caucus attendance by 54 percent. He neglects to mention that Democrats’ attendance at their Iowa party’s caucuses dropped by 30 percent.

Moniak omitted that the Alaska Republican Party increased its participation by 70 percent.

Moniak then tries to compare the Presidential Preference Poll with Alaska’s state-run August primary of 2010, when 110,000 Republicans voted. Again, he confuses an August primary with a March caucus-preference poll, which allows us to bind delegates to the July national convention. Would he prefer we have our PPP in August, after the national convention? What would be the point?

He then attacks the candidates on our ballot, and badgers the Alaska Republican Party for not bashing Donald Trump, as he does. Moniak’s research fails him when he names our state party chairman as “Goldenberg.” (His correct name is Goldberg).

One thing we can agree with Moniak on is that Alaskans are a politically independent type. But he forgets to mention that with so many public sector jobs in our economy, many simply choose not to register with one party or another for fear of job retribution.

Voter turnout can always be better on all sides. But if you look at the glass it’s half full: 285,4318 Alaskans voted in the 2014 General Election, about 54 percent of registered voters. That is near the top nationally. 

Moniak closes by writing: “And maybe that’s why much of the 84 percent of registered Republicans chose not to vote for any of the GOP presidential candidates competing with Trump to be the most obnoxious politician in America.”

I’d like that one percent back; give us our full 17 percent turnout. And while I’d not want to argue with an expert on obnoxiousness, I believe Bernie Sanders continues to win the prize in this department.

• Frank McQueary is vice chairman of the Alaska Republican Party.

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