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New Mexico Primaries Reflect Nation's Polarization

Hannah Colton / KUNM
Voters in line in the South Valley to cast their ballots in New Mexico's 2018 primary.

Heavily contested primaries like New Mexico’s congressional races can sort of tear parties apart, UNM Professor Lonna Atkeson said. That’s especially true when outside organizations start pumping money into candidates. "To see the groups come in and spend a lot of money with candidates who largely have the same ideological agenda is interesting."

Atkeson is the director of the Center for the Study of Voting, Elections, and Democracy. Though we’re seeing more extreme views during campaign season, she said, political scientists have long thought that candidates eventually have to pivot toward the center. That’s changing.

"People that they raise money from outside the corporations, the individuals—who are spending way more money than the corporations at this point—are individual donors who are very ideologically driven," Atkeson said. "And they have very specific ideological wants."

But even though the conversation is getting nastier, evidence shows it’s not dampening turnout the way it used to.

"Look, the more activity, the more candidates are working, the more information there is—actually maybe people don’t like it—but it, if anything, mobilizes them to vote in ways, right?" she said. "Because they get angry, and anger means they want to punish someone. And how do I do that in an election, but I go vote."

The days of the middle-of-the-road, consensus-building candidates may be behind us.

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