What Is the Purpose of Primaries

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22 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The eternal problem is that we know that there is a good candidate out there. There must be.

    The question then becomes “how can we push that good candidate to the fore?”

    Primaries don’t seem to be good at that anymore… though I wonder whether, if they ever were, that it was because we got the illusion of choice given us from the smoke-filled rooms and those rooms gave us 3 or 4 people (all of whom would be acceptable to the smokers) and we’d pick which of the smokers’ choice candidates we’d end up with.

    That’s off the rails, now. The smokers no longer have control of the mixed metaphor.

    While I don’t have a solution qua solution, I would like to point out that if we had higher-quality smokers in these smoke-filled rooms that we’d not be in this predicament. So, to fix this, we need better elites.Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    This poll might be instructive: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2019/09/biden-warren-sanders-cement-position-leaders-democratic-presidential-race.html

    Biden, Warren, and Sanders are the top three candidates. There is a question here about which candidate the respondees feel can beat Trump. Biden holds a huge lead in that question with 45 vs. 14 for Sanders and 12 for Warren. However, the most intriguing question is which candidate do you think will make the best President for the nation. Here, Biden still leads but it is much smaller: 24 percent, with Warren at 20 percent, and Bernie at 16 percent.

    In short, the primary is allowing Warren to slowly and surely prove her merits and rise among the Democratic base/faithful and she appears successful so far. Enough to overcome Biden and cinch the prize? I don’t know but certainly enough to be a serious contender.Report

  3. Avatar North says:

    The thing is… parties aren’t part of the American constitutional system. To be frank the founding fathers didn’t really like the idea of parties and made their plans assuming there wouldn’t be any. Parties then, of course, came along and messed a good number of those same plans sideways.
    But the thing is… parties aren’t in the constitution and they’re probably not enormously discussed in statute either. In order to apply regulations and rulemaking from the outside to a party you would first have to legally establish parties (presumably our existing big two) in the American political system legally. That is… well… problematic in a lot of ways.
    But really, I think this isn’t really a problem that needs a solution, certainly not a problem that needs a government solution. There’s a way to change how parties run and do primaries and that is to get involved with a given party. Primary turnout and party involvement are not an enormously big numbers games- if you can get a large group of people passionately involved in some subject it doesn’t take a lot to sway one of the parties to pay attention to that concern. And, again, what is the problem we’re looking at here? The parties are putting up candidates that no one wants to vote for?
    That only really applies as a problem if one embraces a rather romantic version of understanding what it is parties do and what their goals are in a primary. I would assert that the non-romantic and realistic perspective recognizes that parties are a collection of people organized around a broad-based set (a platform) of policies and principles. In a primary the party’s goals are, in descending order of importance:
    -Find a candidate who is going to be loyal to the platform and desires of the overwhelming majority of the party members; this is also when the party faithful prove to the party itself which principles and policies carry the most heft within the party and help the party define itself (most important).
    -Find a candidate who is capable of managing the highly complex task of organizing a campaign and later (ideally) an administration capable of putting that platform into the countries policy (also important but not as important).
    -Find a candidate who can appeal to the electorate beyond the party faithful and win the election (important but least important of the three).
    If you hold those principles in mind the primary (at least on the Democratic Party side) begins to make a pretty large amount of sense. Trumps’ candidacy, of course, does not but we have all been aware for quite some time now that the Republican party is kind of in a bad state and Trump really was more of an opportunistic infection than a result of what one could consider a normal internal party decision making process.Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to North says:

      I think the problem is that the primary system developed with higher levels of party identification. In June, Gallup reported 46% of Americans identify as Independent, 27% Democrat and 26% Republican. I don’t think these numbers reflect parties with broad-based appeal. That one of the major parties will control one or more branches of government after a given election is a meager sign of success given that the first-past-the-post system entrenches a two-party system. A party can win by merely appearing better than the opponent, but can it govern or execute any mandate? Not really.

      The parties probably need to take charge of the primary system, as if they were developing a national product and were testing representative markets. They need to replicate the conditions of a general election during the primaries as best they can by making them truly open and secret. And it would be nice if they can find ways to make politics fun again, because elections used to be more participatory events, not merely moments of self-expression (the election as marketplace), but I’m not sure how.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to PD Shaw says:

        Good ideas but I don’t see how their incentives can be aligned to produce that outcome. Also, I have a feeling that the growing unaligned voting block is probably an indicator of how low stakes the election outcomes have become for a lot of people.Report

        • Avatar Jesse in reply to North says:

          Eh, other countries have higher participation in politics, even though it takes actual money to be a member of parties there, and in many of them, you get zero choice of who will be PM or even your local MP, and there’s far less differences between the parties, when it comes to most policies.

          In America, you get to choose basically everything, for zero cost, and there actual significant differences between both parties.Report

      • Avatar Jesse in reply to PD Shaw says:

        Except of course, most independents aren’t really ‘independents’, but rather people who end up with the same voting patterns as a Republican or Democrat, feel the need to feel special by calling themselves an ‘independent’ as they vote GOP or Democratic 90% of the time.

        But you’ve got two choices –

        1.) Be a special snowflake and above it all, and so you get to be an independent, but you don’t get a voice in the party.

        2.) Or, accept you’re a Republican or Democrat in all reality, check the box (which is far less than you have to do in virtually every other country), and then you get a voice.Report

        • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Jesse says:

          You don’t have to pay party membership dues or anything?

          In Canada, where you do (the fees are low – my NDP membership is $10 a year, I think the other parties are similarly priced), about 98% of adults are not members in any party. It does have the benefit of keeping the drama around party leadership selection way down.Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to PD Shaw says:

        A party can win by merely appearing better than the opponent, but can it govern or execute any mandate?

        This is a feature, not a bug. Big projects should have more support than “just my party”.Report

        • Avatar Jesse in reply to Dark Matter says:

          If a big project is actually unpopular, then the other party can run against it, and stop or reverse that project.

          What conservatives really fear is liberals getting into power, even narrowly, passing popular liberal things, and when the conservatives get back in power, for whatever reason, they can’t repeal the liberal policies because they’re actually popular.

          Exhibit A – the ACA. A supposed power grab passed by only one party. Rail against it. Get into office – repeal it, obviously. Oh wait, turns out, even Republican’s like much of the ACA, even if no Republican legislator voted for it.Report

          • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Jesse says:

            …they can’t repeal the liberal policies because they’re actually popular…

            Popular and/or create a group of “entitled” voters who are focused on it. And I could say the same about the Conservative’s tax cuts.

            And this is a bug, not a feature. Handing out Free money is popular, but destructive long term. We don’t have a way to get rid of programs short of bankruptcy. There is an extreme mismatch between our desire for benefits/programs and our willingness to pay for them.Report

        • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Dark Matter says:

          I think the system in toto requires high-consensus, but still presumes that the individuals elected to office enjoy popular support. On election eve 2016, 61% of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of Trump and 52% had an unfavorable opinion of Clinton. The worst and second-worst favorability ratings for Presidential candidates in polling history. I think that is an indictment of the primary system as it performs today.

          Admittedly this is not a unique feature of the American system. Right now, the UK has an opposition leader, who is hugely unpopular in the country at large as well as among Labour MPs in particular. History will laugh.Report

    • Avatar Frank Benlin in reply to North says:

      > parties aren’t in the constitution and they’re probably not enormously discussed in statute either.

      This differs from state to state. In New Jersey any party receiving 10% of the statewide vote for General Assembly (odd years) becomes an official party and as such receives automatic ballot access for the next two years. As a practical matter, this leaves the Democrats and the Republicans.

      New York says an official political party is one where its gubernatorial candidate receives 50,000 votes in the previous election. To keep ballot access, parties will nominate one of the major party candidates as its own candidate in order to keep ballot access. For example, Andrew Cuomo is the current governor of New York and is a Democrat. However, he was also the nominee of the Working Families party, the Independence party, and the Women’s Equality party in their hopes of meeting the threshold of 50,000 votes. As it happened, the Women’s Equality party received only 28K votes and as such no longer has automatic ballot access in New York.Report

  4. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Primaries exist because people found the previous method of selecting candidates to be really anti-democratic.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to LeeEsq says:

      It was undemocratic, that’s what made it work. The First Amendment is undemocratic too – if The People want to make it compulsory for everyone be Christian, who are a bunch of unelected judges or dead white slave-owners to tell them they can’t?

      The Founding Fathers understood that it is possible to have too much democracy, but now democracy has come to be seen as inherently good always and everywhere and I fear that is having a corrosive effect on our politics.Report

      • Avatar Jesse in reply to James K says:

        “It was undemocratic, that’s what made it work. The First Amendment is undemocratic too – if The People want to make it compulsory for everyone be Christian, who are a bunch of unelected judges or dead white slave-owners to tell them they can’t?”

        I mean, if 2/3 of Congress, and 2/3 of state legislatures believed this, and thought they had the political capital to do so, they totally could.

        Of course, there can be too much democracy, but here, in gerrymandered America, where the fact some politicians 100 years ago wanted some extra EV’s mean rural America gets overrepresented, and elected officials happily draw gerrymandered maps, the idea we have too much democracy is kind of silly.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James K says:

        What made it work was George Washington being universally admired. Parties entered the arena as soon as it was Adams vs. Jefferson in 1796, and the mess of the 1800 election demonstrated that the presidential election system had to be changed to accommodate, if not explicitly acknowledge, parties. That is, the presidential election system the sacred and infallible Founders created lasted all of 11 years.Report

  5. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    ” A state party shouldn’t be allowed to shut down a primary just to protect an (extremely) unpopular sitting president.”

    What makes anyone think Trump is unpopular with the GOP base?
    If a GOP primary election were held today, he would almost certainly win all 50 states.

    Or did you mean he is unpopular with the general public?
    That may be, but then it seems to follow that anyone the GOP base voters select, with be also unpopular.

    I point this out only to challenge the common notion we hear, that somehow Trump staged a hostile takeover of the GOP, and that once he is gone they will put forward some Romney/ Bush type.

    The Romneys, Bushes, McCains are all gone now. They have either been excommunicated like Flake/ Frum, or surrendered in abject defeat like, well, Romney.

    By shutting down the primaries, the GOP elite are doing the bidding of the voting base.Report

  6. Avatar Frank Benlin says:

    > Democrats started “Super Tuesday” in 1998 to have a large block of Southern states go early in order to produce a more moderate nominee, only to have Jessie Jackson emerge victorious

    Well you meant 1988 and Jesse, but the irony of the situation is that Jesse Jackson was hampered by Al Gore being in the race. Dukakis ended up with 42.4% of the vote, while Jackson and Gore had 42.9%. One wonders if there was only one southerner in the race rather than two.

    Post-script: Neither Jackson nor Gore ran in 1992, but Gore was the successful VP nominee.Report