Politics

Why The Primary Process Is Flawed

| by Nicholas Roberts
Republican & Democrat symbolsRepublican & Democrat symbols

This American presidential campaign season has upended many conventional assumptions about what voters are thinking and feeling, as well as what constitutes a candidate's electability. As outsider candidates test the viability of "moderate" and "centrist" political ideologies, the primary system itself has come under a torrent of criticism.

The processes used to determine the winners of America's primary elections are the result of compromises and rules made decades ago, and they were made to expressly limit the chances of 'populist' candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on the Democratic side and billionaire businessman Donald Trump on the Republican side.

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As Jeremy Peters of The New York Times notes, the process of determining presidential nominees has historically been closed off to the American public. Nominees were chosen by members of Congress in the early history of the nation, but the national convention system steadily evolved to decentralize decision-making and put more power into the hands of ordinary people. But this transition never fully completed, and in recent decades, it has arguably started to reverse.

Democratic superdelegates were created after the party's loss in the 1980 election, and they were intended to ensure that ordinary Democrats could not elect a populist to be the party's presidential nominee in election years, as had occurred with George McGovern in 1972.  

Each superdelegate's vote has the same weight as that of delegates awarded through primaries and caucuses. To see the inherent flaws in this system, we need look no further than the New Hampshire primary: Even though Sanders won 15 delegates against Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton's nine delegates, the six superdelegates supporting Clinton in that state resulted in a technical tie between the two candidates.

The Republicans use fewer superdelegates, but they make up for it with a byzantine nomination process for electing state and national delegates which is also designed to make it more difficult for "outsider" candidates to penetrate the party apparatus.

So far, the losers of these arcane rules have been Sanders and Trump. But Sanders is currently not the front-runner of his party and trails Clinton in pledged delegate count, superdelegates and the popular vote itself.  

Trump, on the other hand, is still the front-runner of the GOP and is slated to win contests in New York and Pennsylvania in April. When the Republican Party officially tries to box out Trump (most likely at the convention), it will have a lot of explaining to do to Trump's supporters, who will feel robbed of their candidate's nomination chances -- and rightfully so.

The candidate who is most fully exploiting the undemocratic nature of this process is Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has no chance of winning the popular vote in the primaries but who has been carefully targeting and wooing potential delegates in a play that's been years in the making. While Trump bleats on about how the delegate system skews the people's will, Cruz is scheming to nab the nomination through small, closed door meetings with large donors and potential delegates, Politico notes.

This election is seeing the primary process on both sides tested as never before. There is a palpable sense that both Democratic and Republican political elites are very nervous about the consequences of this campaign season on daily political business going forward, and the popular hatred for undemocratic procedures during the primaries will only magnify that nervousness, especially on the Republican side.

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Sources: The New York Times, US News, Politico / Photo Credit: DonkeyHotey/Flickr